My 89-year-old mother is about to go into assisted living. This got me thinking about caretakers—and how much I admire you if you are taking care of either a parent or grandparent or an injured or ill spouse or significant other. Or if you make a living taking care of the elderly or the ill.
In fact, you are all my heroes.
My admiration for caretakers began when I interviewed Barb and Wayne for my book The Indestructible Relationship. The couple’s story is pretty amazing. And it illustrates not only the stress that caretakers are under but also the way caretaking affects your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Because there’s no doubt that if you’re taking care of an elderly parent it can impact your relationship. And if your spouse is the one who is injured it adds a whole new dynamic.
Which brings me back to Barb and Wayne. Nineteen-year-old Barb awoke on the morning of September 24, 1972 prepared for an idyllic life. Almost four weeks before, she had married Wayne and looked forward to starting a family in their hometown of Wautoma, Wisconsin. But on that day in September, Wayne decided to play football—and all Barb’s dreams shattered.
“I’d like to say I was playing for the Packers,” recalls Wayne, who was twenty years old at the time, “but it was for fun with friends. It was after the Packers had beaten the Bears, and I was looking for something to do.”
What started out as fun with friends turned into a nightmare. Wayne, a wiry bundle of muscles, caught the football and slipped away from his rivals. As he sprinted up the border of trees that marked the sideline, an opponent rushed toward him. Determined not to run out of bounds, Wayne faced the man head-on. The two collided, and Wayne fell backward, slamming his head against the ground. His neck snapped. The force crushed seven of his vertebrae. Pain overpowered him and he slipped into unconsciousness.
On the way to the hospital, Barb’s aunt tried to reassure her, telling her over and over again, “It’s only a pinched nerve.” But when they arrived, the doctor showed Barb the x-rays, and her hope dissolved into despair. Her husband’s neck was twisted into the shape of a V. The diagnosis? Wayne was paralyzed from the neck down and might never even sit up in a wheelchair.
When Wayne finally arrived home for good, Barb went from newlywed to nurse.
“I used to gag when I had to change the dressings,” says Barb. “I was such a wuss at the sight of blood. Boy, I had to get over that in a hurry.”
Wayne’s disabilities were often as physically challenging for Barb as they were emotionally draining. Initially, she struggled to lift her two-hundred-twenty-five-pound husband in and out of the bed, straining so hard from time to time she would jolt her shoulder out of its socket. At times, she nearly collapsed from exhaustion.
As the couple told me the relationship skills they used to get over their challenges, and as I began to write their chapter in The Indestructible Relationship, I was in awe of the way they eventually learned to cope. And I discovered some important lessons of love from them as well—lessons I continue to use in my own relationship.
But most importantly, I discovered an appreciation for people who dedicate their lives to helping others in need.
Kimberly Pryor is the author of The Indestructible Relationship: Support and Understand Each Other Better During Grief, Illness and All Life’s Stressful Moments, which won the 2012 EPIC eBook award for best non-fiction. The book is a collection of inspirational, real-life stories that can show all couples how to stress-proof their relationship and fall more deeply in love and singles how to ensure that their next relationship lasts forever. It’s an ideal holiday gift for caretakers and any couple experiencing job stress, chronic illness, cancer, bankruptcy, the death of a child or any other traumatic or stressful experience. Purchase the book on October 25 & 26 and receive more than $800 in free gifts.