DEAR AMY: I love my husband and want to state at the outset that I will never leave him. We were happily married for 18 years when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. It has been five years since the cancer, and I feel I’m married to a different person. He is now often odd, quirky, weird and annoying. Our whole life revolves around him and his cancer. I feel guilty that I have these negative feelings toward him because I know it’s not his fault, but it can be overwhelming. I try so hard to be the loving caregiver but I’m mourning the man he was. I’m only 48 years old and I feel like the best years of my life are over. Then I feel selfish. I get to go to work and live a normal life outside the home, and he is home on full disability. We both try to focus on the silver linings, but sometimes I just want my old life back. I am trying to accept the fact that he will never get better, but it’s so hard. I have many supportive friends, go to counseling, go to yoga and meditation, make art, and write in my journal. What more can I do to relieve myself from feeling anxious and overwhelmed? How can I accept my (new) husband the way he is, and stop missing the old him? Is it time for medication? Is there a stress reliever I haven’t tried yet? I’m running out of hope and strategies.
DEAR HOPELESS: Ask your counselor and physician about medication. Medication could help you to cope with your anxiety and depression.
Some of the techniques you are using for stress relief might help your husband, too. Meditation and creative outlets like writing, music, painting or gardening could make a difference in his life.
But your question isn’t about him. The caregiver’s lot is a sometimes unrelenting slog of being both on the inside and the outside of a disease that has taken over your family.
You should not expect to stop grieving for the life this disease has taken from you, but you might turn your attention toward remembering that life, along with your husband. If you can face it, going through old photo albums and videos with him might be a bittersweet but positive experience.
Most importantly, your most powerful stress reliever will be the knowledge that you are not alone. Friends will allow you to express yourself and will not call you out for complaining. Vent, fume, or rail at the world, but remind yourself to soften those brittle edges by treating yourself with loving kindness.
A cancer caregivers’ support group could be a game-changer for you. I appreciate the work of Cancersupportcommunity.org, which includes Gilda’s Clubs around the country. Founded in memory of the late, great comedian Gilda Radner, these clubs offer support for people living with cancer.
DEAR AMY: I am in my late 50s. My sisters have manipulated and bullied me my entire life. Our parents passed away and I lived the closest to them. Neither sister lifted a finger to help empty out their house after they died. Instead they visited and stayed in the house, but left it a mess and told me to clean it up. I am the only one with a job, but I had to take care of everything. The funerals were tense and very uncomfortable for me. The only time the younger one calls is to check on her inheritance. I have not spoken to the older one in years. What bothers me most is that my nephew didn’t invite me or my daughter to his wedding. I am sure this was because of my sister. I am trying to move on but can’t seem to forgive them. Suggestions?
DEAR NO FAMILY: Moving on implies an acceptance of the reality in your family. I suggest you move on now, and work on forgiveness later.
The fact that you haven’t been included in a family wedding shows how insidious bullying can be, and how it can pass down through generations. Understand that because you and your sister haven’t had contact for many years, her son might not really know you.
DEAR AMY: “Devastated Mom” was concerned about her teen son’s emotional distance. I’m sorry, but any parent who would charge her own son rent deserves what she gets.
DEAR MOM: When children are older than 18, some parents try to prepare them for life on their own by charging them rent at home. I support this effort.