"Some women are lost in the fire. Some women are built from it."
—Michelle K.
The Fire Within Blog
The Caregiver’s Family

Last weekend, John’s 93-year-young dad came to visit us for four days. Jack’s a saint of a man who I love deeply. I’ve got lots of company there.

The last time we saw Jack in LA was just after we bought our condo in 1990. John’s mother, Betty, wasn’t a city lover. So after she passed two years ago, we really wanted to have Jack to ourselves and LA for a spell.

We had a ball taking Jack sightseeing, restaurant hopping and friend visiting. Even took in a ballgame at Dodgers Stadium (miraculously, our beloved A’s prevailed 2-0.)

In between the hubbub, Jack and I had a number of our heart-to-hearts. We’re similar in many ways. We have the metabolisms of hummingbirds and like to go-Go-GOOO. We’re both workaholics and never leave a job unfinished. We also relish open, honest discussion.

During this visit, Jack went deeper than ever. I suspect that’s because he didn’t have to filter things through Betty who was apt to put on the blinders in her later years. Also, I guess when you hit your 90’s, you don’t want to leave anything unsaid.

He had a lot of questions about the inability of my family members to deal with my illness. Jack was truly sad, but understood and supported my choice to emotionally and physically disengage.

We went on to talk at length about the death of John’s two brothers. In particular, Steven who at age 16 died in a motorcycle accident 45 years ago. There were questions John’s always had about that accident and the hours following, but didn’t ask his folks for fear it would resurrect long-buried grief.

Then Jack told me something that I’ve always wondered about. He described his and Betty’s resentment toward me after I became ill and they realized I wasn’t going to get better. He talked about fear for their son who was losing so much time in his mid-20’s after my mystery pain forced us to move back to our hometown and John became my full-time “nursemaid.”

Jack revealed a talk he’d had with John at that time about his and Betty’s worries. He then smiled, mimicking John’s reassurance that he’d be happy for the rest of his life staying by the woman he loved. Jack’s eyes brightened as he shared that that was all he needed to hear. He never questioned our relationship again. But that didn’t mean it didn’t keep hurting…

I’ve thought a lot about my talk with Jack since he headed back north. For decades I’d suspected Betty and Jack were angry at me for becoming ill and how that impacted their son’s life. In fact I’d oddly hoped they had been – as that anger is a normal part of loving parents wanting the best for their son.

I’m grateful for Jack’s candidness. I needed to know that John’s parents loved him that much as most times no one is in the caregiver’s corner. I have great respect for Betty and Jack because, despite their pain and anger, they chose to stay by our side. God bless them for that great gift.

I’m now fully aware that the caregiver’s families grieve just as much as ours do. They’re broadsided by loss, fear, sadness, confusion. For Betty and Jack, John’s life going down the chronic pain “rabbit hole” was a form of death to be grieved. This stung particularly deep as they grieved the actual deaths of their two other sons, Steven and David who we lost to prostate cancer in 2009.

Thankfully, there’s finally some focus by media and policy makers on the plight of the full-time caregiver. But there’s another ring that ripples out still being overlooked – that of the caregiver’s family. They need support, understanding and the space to grieve.

I love you, Jack. I’m sorry I caused you and Betty pain. Thank you for hanging in there with us… no matter what. Thank you for teaching me the grace of unconditional love.

XO Cynthia