Living with anybody for a prolonged period of time can have its ups and downs, certainly.  Just ask anyone who has been married.  There are the great times and there are less than great times.  That, of course, is the basis of continuing to build a strong relationship:  enduring the tough times so that you can get back to the great times.
Anyone with kids can tell you how much more difficult it is navigating the relationship because of how much time and energy the kids require.  The obvious priority is the kids but what ends up happening many times is that the relationship between the parents suffers.
What our society is experiencing now is taking care of one of the PARENTS’ parents.  There are SO many challenges that are eerily similar to those challenges faced by couples while raising kids, too many to mention.
One of the differences is that, in many cases, this is an unplanned disturbance in a relationship.  Children are usually planned while taking care of a parent or loved one is often something that comes unexpectedly.
For the woman, it is how they are wired.  Women are wired to want to take care of people.  When the kids are gone there is nobody to take care of, except for the husband.  So when the opportunity arises many women feel compelled to step in to take care of an elderly loved one, if for no other reason than out of obligation.
For the man, it’s quite a bit different, I think.  Having just experienced this for the past four years, I saw first hand how my significant other’s role in caring for her father affected our relationship.
In my former relationship, as a man, I felt that I was the lowest priority for my ex-wife with our two little girls.  Though I love them with all my heart, I was no longer the first (or second, or third) priority in the household.
When that marriage failed I was so very lucky to find somebody who I, it turned out, had been looking for my entire life.  We blended perfectly together.  So harmonious were our likes (loves?) and passions that life and time flew by effortlessly.
When we were finally able to be together every day it was a culmination of many years of dreaming of that day.
And then, her father moved in with us.
To be sure, I enjoyed her father, and he and I got along very well, virtually all time.  But, in a very short time, it was apparent that he could not be alone at all because of the very real possibility that something might go wrong.  He had dementia.
A relationship is only as strong as the ability of each individual in that relationship to handle adverse conditions.  This is when ones upbringing comes in to play.
I remember her telling me on more than one occasion, “I don’t know why you are still here.  You didn’t sign up for this.  No man would put up with my father living here and, yet, you are still here.”
She never believed me when I told her that it never even crossed my mind to leave.  Sure, intimate times (candles, music, baths, endless hours in bed) became virtually non-existent; we could never (really EVER) just up and leave to have a picnic, grab a movie or go dancing and when we DID get to go out, her father was with us and slowed us down to a snails pace.  It was, as it turned out, not life as I expected it to be.  To be fair, it wasn’t life how she expected it to be either.
Slowly our relationship morphed into both of us caring for her father, as a team, though she did the bulk of the work.  She still couldn’t believe I was doing this for (with?) her.  What she never quite understood (maybe she still doesn’t) is how I made it the “new normal” in my life. Sure, it wasn’t what I had expected to happen when we were finally together after all those years, but it IS family.  It WAS her father.  She would do this for me if the tables were turned, right?  Of course, she would.  Neither her sisters nor her mother (whom her father was still married to) were doing anything about it.  In fact, they wanted to put him in an assisted living facility.
I admire how she did a very difficult thing by bringing him into her (our?) home for his last years on this earth.
And the last year was not so much fun if I were to be completely honest.  Messes (think about it…) that needed to be picked up, adult diapers that needed to be taken care of (either on him or in the toilet) and baths given to him were turning into routine activities.  The bathing alone took about an hour, as getting him up the stairs, down the hall and into the tub without making him lose his pride took time.  These things etched into her and my relationship to the point it didn’t seem like we had one.  She was so stressed about things concerning him – his health, his finances, his wife (her mom), his daughters (her sisters) that, once again, I was a lingering priority.
As Christians, you try to do the right thing for the better of somebody else’s life.  I realized it not only helped the love of my life but it also helped her father enjoy the last years of his life.  I understood it was all how I looked at it.  Cribbage paired with a glass of wine was virtually a nightly occurence and sometimes was precluded by a nice, quiet visit on the back porch as the sun warmed our bodies while the occasion warmed our hearts.
I knew I had a choice how I perceived this part of my life and our lives together as a couple.  If I let it, it could ruin our life together.  On the other hand it could be something we both looked back on fondly, how we both bonded even closer as we helped usher her father out of the physical present life into the spiritual after life.
By no stretch of the imagination was helping her take care of her father easy.  I missed so many family functions I risked alienating my own family from me.  I wasn’t able to do many things that I would have liked to do.  When I would have my own pity party for one about those things I merely had to look across the room and realize she couldn’t even leave the house for most part.  Everything in life is relative, so to speak, and, well, he was a very important relative, to say the least.
Obviously, there were many challenges along the way, every day, you could argue.  But I’m happy that it happened.  There is a reason it happened.  I grew as a person gaining a much needed appreciation of what somebody in the twilight of their life is going through. I am proud that I got to get to know her father better than most in his last days on earth.
If I were to offer some tips to those helping THEIR loved one take care of a loved one, I would offer this:
1)  However difficult, keep in mind that with true love comes true committment and, therefore, this should be something that you do out of the kindness of your heart for the one you love so much.
2)  When things get difficult, look over and watch the one that is REALLY doing the heavy lifting.  That should put things in better perspective.
3)  Try to remember that everything happens for a reason and we can either fight it or help it along.  There IS good in everything.  Sometimes you have to look a little harder to find it.
4)  Take pride in being able to help out.  There is an honor to be trusted to help out in this way.  Believe it to be true.
5)  Like a friend of mine always says, you have to take care of yourself first before you can help others.  If it gets to a point where you feel you really can't go on then take a break for yourself.  You deserve it and they will understand.
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.


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