Feb 7, 2021

It’s commonly known that when we feel purposeful, we live longer, fuller lives.

It’s also well known that challenges are stressful.

Let’s now consider how stressful challenges create purpose, and therefore, longer and fuller lives.

You with me?

Consider an aging couple; the husband’s health is declining, his wife takes on more and more duties that begin to resemble caregiving. For example: He first needs help buttoning his shirt, eventually she has to also help him put the shirt on before buttoning it.

He can no longer get out of bed without her help. She swings his legs over to the side of the bed and then braces herself to help him stand up. He outweighs her by over 100 pounds. At night the process works in reverse: she helps him sit at the edge of the bed and then lifts his legs and swings them into bed.

Over time, he is told he can no longer drive. He moves from a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair. But Dr.’s don’t give any explanation or diagnosis. She continues to patiently take care of him. Expressing only occasionally that it’s “getting hard”.

Eventually, she’s the one to receive a diagnosis: Cancer. Even as she begins chemotherapy and faces its side affects, she continues to care for her husband the best she can.

In fact, caring for him may be exactly what’s causing her to fight the cancer so hard.

Research studies from the 1990’s indicated that Caregiving shortened the life span of the Caregiver. But new studies are showing the opposite is true. Whether that is due to an increase in resources available to Caregivers, and a better understanding of aging, the fact is there are now several studies that show caregivers live longer, somewhere in the range of 15 to 20%, longer.

Why?

Researchers think it’s due to the idea that you find meaning in your life. You have a reason you’ve got to keep yourself going. It may also keep you physically active and make you watch your health a bit more. (Check out Dr. Regina Koepp’s podcast, Psychology of Aging episode #044 with William Haley PhD)

My Parents at their home, January 2020

Such was the case, I believe, with my parents. They are the husband and wife at the beginning of this story. My mom lived 2.5 years after her diagnosis of Pancreatic cancer. She did remarkably well through chemotherapy and a major surgery that removed the lower portion of her stomach, 1/3 of her pancreas and bile duct, her spleen and gall bladder, and the top portion of her small intestine. She was 81 at the time of the surgery. We were told they don’t usually do it on people older than 80.

Just as important as her own health and well being, maybe even more so, was the health and well-being of my Dad, her husband of 56 years.

He was officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in November of 2018 (6 months after her cancer diagnosis). She worked to keep him at home as long as she could. In the end, he spent only 5 months in a VA Care Center before his passing in July 2020. She joined him just 4 months later.

One might debate if she benefitted from being his Caregiver. It was exhausting work.

Here’s how I see it; She outlived him. That brought her so much peace.

She worked with us to finalize the details of his funeral and burial, and the accompanying paperwork.  She knew he was no longer in pain, miserable, confused, or lonely. Due to COVID quarantine, we’d only been able to see him a few times in those 5 months.

It left her free to focus only on her needs. How I wish that could have been 4 years, instead of 4 months.

Mom found meaning in living for other things too. In the Church we belong to, children are baptized at the age of 8. She really wanted to live to see her youngest grandchild baptized. That happened on November 7, 2020. Just 2 days later she took a hard turn for the worse. We all began gathering around her on November 11th. She passed away in the early morning hours of November 15th.

One week after meeting her goal to see her grandson baptized.

If you are a Caregiver struggling to see the benefits of the job, let’s talk.

If you are a Caregiver who’s found purpose and meaning in your journey, let’s talk.

In both cases, we can learn from each other.

Email me at [email protected]

OR Schedule a free session here https://meredithgcoaching.as.me/ if you’d like to talk face to face.

Wherever you are in your Caregiving journey, I hope you recognize that even though at times you feel powerless, at least just as often, you are resilient.

Much Love,
Meredith