About the middle of June I wrote my first reflection on caregiving for my partner, Stephen. Here we are four months later, and Stephen is about the same, maybe a little worse. No need to go into the details of the illness, his basic problems are pain management and staying mobile on a walker. Also, it’s very likely that the situation is chronic. I think that Stephen and I have been doing a pretty good job of dealing with this situation effectively. Of course, Stephen does get discouraged and frustrated from time to time, but most of the time he still manages to summon up the courage and determination that he is made of. For my part, I have discovered surprising emotional stability and physical capability.
One of the recurring themes of this recuperation/adjustment period has been that occasionally, when the pain or stiffness gets so very hard to manage, Stephen will say “Why is this happening to me?” I used to try to help him look over the possible answers to this question, but lately, I have concluded that we don’t know the answer to this question. I have instead pinned my hope on the new doctor that he has just started seeing who seems to be more familiar with this type of problem. And I say so to him, that I don’t really know, and I am sorry that it is so difficult and long-standing. However, last night as I was getting into bed, I heard that question echo in my own mind, as if I were asking it: Why is this happening to me?
It was only just a few seconds before the answer came to me: “Because 25 years ago you took a chance on love and made a lasting commitment to Stephen.” This gave me hope and it solidified my belief that in fact this is not a period of difficulty but rather a different, perhaps now normal stage of our lives, this is my life and his. What else would I be doing as part of my life than just what I am doing? And I suppose a more direct and uncomplicated answer would be “Because people get old and/or sick, and other people who care take care of them.”
Someone may think that I am missing the point. Surely part of what Stephen means when he asks this question is “What is causing this to happen?” and given the cause, “What treatment can we use to improve things?” or “Is there any hope of improvement?” Well, I know that. Surely these are important questions to ask. But just in case the answer to these important questions is “There is no hope.” or “You may get worse,” then I think I have come up with the more basic, underlying truth here. Commitment can also be a cause that affects the outcome of situations, only for sure, commitment is something that we can do to and for ourselves, regardless of what the doctors tell us. You knew that, didn’t you?
But it does get back to something that I have thought of many times as I have seen my dear friends who are in a committed relationship break up and go their separate ways. Way back 25 years ago, I had just spent the ten previous years looking for and not finding that lasting love of a lifetime. Stephen and I have had our moments of being tested in our own relationship, to be sure. But for the last couple of decades, no matter the occasional murky matrimonial water, I have come back to the same conclusion: “The only way to have a lasting, committed relationship is to have one.” It’s all in what you want. Of course, your partner has to want you, too, and that is the gift that Stephen has given me.