Gillian - My Journey as a Caregiver
We moved to Florida six years ago for the active, outdoor life. I had a personal training business, so I did a lot of physical things and still do. My husband also led an active lifestyle and loved playing tennis. He was born in Germany and trained there as a master watchmaker when he was 14. He was a master gardener. He did everything; then he had a stroke, and life changed in a heartbeat.
My husband lost the use of the left side of his body. He can walk but relies on the support of a cane. For longer distances, he relies on a motorized scooter. Thankfully, the stroke did not affect his speech. He’s also become more simplistic in many ways. Things that used to be so important to him like finances no longer interest him.
The first couple of years we were doing all you do after somebody has been in the hospital for two months and a nursing home for three months. Things finally took a turn for the better when my husband got involved with a traumatic brain injury clubhouse.
They specialize in helping people get back to normal living as much as possible by regaining self-sufficiency. It’s like a family for my husband. He loves it there, and they love him. We go twice a week, and they work on arts, crafts and gardening projects. It’s also where he discovered his love of painting. Because he liked it so much, he began taking private art lessons.
My husband’s attitude has completely changed since he started painting. For a long time, he was angry about having a stroke, but now he sees he has a purpose.
My husband paints with acrylic. He has his own very unique style. He creates beautiful abstracts and a lot of nature pictures. He's always loved nature. There's a spiritual aspect to his work. We're amazed how it’s all happening. We really feel like his work is divinely inspired.
Still, there are times when my husband resents that he isn’t able to do all the things he could before his stroke. This often manifests as criticism and ungratefulness. When this happens, I must remind myself how hard it must be for him and how he must feel powerless. Sometimes when I’m tired at the end of the day, I find it hardest to carry on my role as constant cheerleader, but eventually, we get back on track.
What most helps keep us on track is to ask for help from neighbors and friends. They have been so kind and willing to offer assistance. My husband handled all the repairs around the house, gardening, finances and computer work. At first, family who lives out of the area assisted with the duties my husband once performed, but that eventually stopped as they have their own lives to live. It’s been trying, yet I have grown from these challenges and now know it’s important to ask for help when needed.
Being a caregiver hasn’t been easy. You have to be patient, and it definitely helps to have some kind of a spiritual connection. Self-care is also important. I exercise every single day because I have to stay strong. I know if I don't take care of myself, I'm not going to be able to take care of him.
Taking on this responsibility has been a great thing for me, and of course, I’ve gotten closer to my husband in the process. It makes me feel like I have a great purpose. I've been in the business of helping people for a long time, but this is totally different. I see now that this is the path that we’re meant to follow, and ultimately, it's been very rewarding.