When a Marriage Changes
By Saralee Perel
Many people tell me they envy the relationship my husband, Bob, and I have. But nobody would be envious upon seeing what we've been like as each other's caregiver.
Naturally we both believed it, so many years ago at our wedding when we said, "in sickness and in health." But when disability strikes, even the most loving people in the world can shock themselves with their own behavior.
My spinal cord injury was 10 years ago. Bob's been my full time caregiver. Lately he's needed extra care from me. Until now, I've assumed that I would handle this role with patience and grace. But I haven't.
Last week, when Bob took a heavy box to the truck and then jogged back to the house, I said, "The cardiologist said you're not supposed to strain or run. I can't follow you around all day making sure you don't do something foolish."
He felt terrible. "I'm sorry I'm doing this to you," he said, wanting to make up with a hug, which I returned with obvious reluctance. "I hate it when I worry you."
You see, Bob thinks more about my feelings than he does his own.
I'm shocked at the awful, angry person I have become. When I see him smiling sweetly as he's trying to make me feel better about myself, my guilt is relentless.
Feeling isolated and lonesome, I realized I couldn't keep everything inside anymore. So I decided to talk to my very best friend.
"Bob, can we talk? I'm disgusted with myself."
He took both of my hands in his. "You're just scared. How can you not be with your disability? I'm your caregiver. And now you're taking care of me. You've got to give yourself a break."
I stood as we hugged and cried together. "Can you find it in your heart to forgive me for how impatient and frustrated I've become?"
"There's nothing to forgive." He gently dried my tears with the cuff of his flannel pajamas. "You're not feeling anything that anyone in your shoes wouldn't feel. All caregivers get angry at times. It's natural and normal. I love you. And I know you love me."
"Please, Bob. Please say the words, ‘I forgive you.' I can't change until you do."
"Yes you can. All you have to do is forgive yourself."
Ever since we had our heart-to-heart talk, I've learned, through Bob's tutelage, that I don't need to stay within my cloistered emotional walls. It took support and love to get me back into a good place. It took reaching out to a community.
I thank my friends at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. I thank my compassionate readers. I thank the patients at the rehabilitation hospital who I used to walk by without even saying hello, but with whom I now share bagels. I thank Bettina, my Chair Yoga instructor who, at my first yoga class last month made me feel instantly welcomed and accepted.
And of course I thank, with every ounce of love in my heart, my very best friend, Bob.
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Award-Winning columnist and novelist, Saralee Perel, frequently contributes her columns to us. Her newest book is Cracked Nuts & Sentimental Journeys: Stories From a Life Out of Balance. Read about her challenges after her SCI, stories of her caregiver dog, and her human family too.
For more information on Saralee, her book order information from Amazon or the publisher, even to purchase a signed copy, please visit her website: SaraleePerel.com.
Saralee is also on Facebook. Visit her page, Saralee Perel Presents Gracie, My 4-Footed Coach.
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