I am my disabled husband’s caregiver. While he was hospitalized for eight months, I moved us out of the home we had lived in for 20+ years, and built a wheelchair-accessible townhome. Although the home is well-designed, and has wide hallways, there isn’t room for a Christmas tree.
Yet we are imbued with the holiday spirit. I bought a tiny artificial tree and set it on the fireplace mantle. A Wisconsin friend made a fresh pine wreath for us, and it smells like the North woods. I smiled as I hung her gift on the front door. After placing a few beloved holiday directions around the townhome, the holiday decorating was done.
Gifts were next item on my To Do list. Since my husband is confined to a wheelchair, I don’t leave him alone for very long. When I’m gone I worry about him constantly, Like many consumers, my solution was to shop online. We’re giving family members books chosen especially for them. I’ll probably make some food gifts too. What about our gifts for each other?
“I want to get you something special,” my husband mused, “but shopping is hard when you’re in a wheelchair.”
“You’ve always been generous,” I answered, “but we’ve had lots of medical expenses. Please don’t get me anything.” My husband nodded in agreement, and asked me not to get him anything. We were satisfied with our mutual decisions.
John and I have been married for 60 years, and celebrated many holidays together. Being his primary caregiver is really my gift for him. This made me thing of the Shaker Hymn, “Tis a Gift to be Simple,” written by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848. According to the first verse, when we find ourselves in the “place just right,” we will experience love and delight. We’ve lived this line and being in the same room makes us happy.
Because he is a retired physician, John understood the dangers of a dissected aorta, risks of multiple surgeries, and excessive anesthesia. He knew he could wake up with paralyzed legs, and that’s what happened. “I was willing to roll the dice,” he admitted later. Because he rolled the dice, John, in his wheelchair, escorted our granddaughter down the aisle on her wedding day. Because he rolled the dice, he knows his grandson is a student at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine. Because he rolled the dice, he knows I wrote a series of books for family caregivers, and served as the medical consultant for one of them.
As the Shaker hymn says, I’m in the right place at this time of life, and I know it in my gut. Caregivers like you and me don’t need to waste energy on trying to create a perfect holiday. Instead, we can slow down, simplify schedules, and savor the miracle of life. We are alive. We are here. We are needed. We are giving the gift of love–the best gift of all.