Uneven aging: Bright moments

One of my friends quotes Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who said to his audience, "People, you got to have those bright moments."

When uneven aging invades a couple's life, bright moments seem to recede, because health challenges drain all concerned. I was reminded of this when sitting in J.'s antique store. A woman of about sixty came in with a friend; they puttered about until a stack of vintage linens caught her eye.

She took over forty-five minutes to choose two hand towels for her kitchen, using a wonderful old French-Canadian word to announce her choice: "Celles-ci sont moins maganées" ("These are less destroyed".)

While paying, she told us that her husband had cancer and was presently unable to go out, and added, "So I buy myself things, to feel better—because we do not know what is going to happen."

I understood immediately, because I've seen friends do the same, whether on a grand scale (major landscaping) or small (buying the expensive oranges). Uneven aging means one person needs more support, even if temporary. Promises are often made for the life that will be resumed "when I am better", or "if the doctor gives the go-ahead".

Sometimes the less-afflicted partner knows that recovery is not possible. A neighbour cares for both her chronically-ill husband and 93-year-old father, who still lives alone in his own apartment. In past years, she was restored by an annual three-week get-away, travelling with a small group of women friends. No more, she told me last week. Her husband can't be on his own for even a full day. She takes a book to a café to read for an hour and a half.

 "Je fais mon deuil maintenant", she told me: I am doing my mourning now.

She is calm, but still exhausted. If I could wave a wand, I'd do that Oprah move: every person giving abiding care would receive bright moments, from the free—a glorious, colour-shot sunset, time to listen to a favourite podcast—to those that can be bought: real hot chocolate, a new lipstick. I'm Oprah? Everyone gets a free massage every month!

Eyebrows might be raised (typically by heirs) should big-ticket options come into the picture, but it's the couple's business. I confess I'd probably say something if the bright moment meant serious debt.  And "moment" is relevant. Rob took his infirm wife on a trip that was too ambitious. He said a week would have pleased her, or even a long weekend, but the two-week journey, with long flights, was a mistake.

As  J. wrapped the towels, I glanced at the customer's girlfriend and saw that she had tears in her eyes. I read her face: not great odds. The customer took her package, squared her shoulders and walked out to the winter-weak sunlight, her friend at her side. It may have been but a moment, but that moment carried her back into her home and the tasks at hand.


LauraH said…
Been there, done that. Is respite care available to give your neighbour a day to herself?
Such a poignant moment - and something that more and more of my friends are experiencing. My best friend lost her husband to cancer at only 58. He lived a year after diagnosis and it was tough. But they talked all the time and accepted early on that it wasn't a race he was going to win so concentrated on what worked best for him. Friends and family supported them throughout - and yes, we made a point of taking her out to lunch or a movie as she needed the break. And one other point - the one left behind still needs help afterwards - in a way that's when they become the patient - often from exhaustion and stress.

I have recently been watching a British series on YouTube called "Great Canal Journeys" - it features the actors Timothy West & Prunella Scales, who have been married for over 50 years. She has dementia and while the series is about their canal journeys around the UK and Europe (something they've done all their lives) it also chronicles how life changes for both of them as her disease progresses and how they both cope. They started this series in 2013 and the last one was done October 2017 (although they are supposed to do another one this year) and it is a very poignant - and yet funny - documentary of their lives together. I heartily recommend it.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: Available- but not acceptable to either the spouse or the parent. I shall be tactful and only say that I would handle it differently.

Margie from Toronto: Oh I love Prunella Scales, and did not know about this; thank you so much for the recommendation.
Actually the support for caregivers (also known as carers - aidants naturels in French)has greatly improved here in Québec due to the efforts of community groups, some of which belong to the Regroupement des aidants naturels du Québec

Some of the articles are in English as well http://ranq.qc.ca/

The Montréal local association: http://raanm.net/

I know this blog is far more about what family and friends can do to support both caregivers and the person needing care, but the measures to help caregivers,including respite care, are a big help and not as well known as they should be.

By the way, a good friend of mine works for these associations.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: I have friends who have used respite care here. In the instance of my neighbour, she would happily use it, but it is not presently acceptable to the family members (because of personality, not because of doubts about the quality.) Perhaps later.
Yes, I understand. My comment, as I said, was a general one based on knowledge of what the community associations have achieved here.

By the way, Happy Equinox!!!!
Thank you for this sweet post. It is so timely as my husband returned home three days ago after a six+ week hospital stay. Like your friend's spouse, he would not welcome just anyone for his needed daily visits. I am thankful for our two sons and his elderly brothers who tried to give me the occasional day off. I, also, sought those "bright moments" by treating myself to a wonderful dinner nearby. That was fun as the servers began to see me as a regular and knew my story. One sweet server offered me dessert "on her".
On the Materfamilias blog, Frances wrote about "solo dining" while I was in the midst of this. Like your post here, it was a delightful respite from the cares of my day.
I thank both of you for such sensitivity of these times in our lives...
Charlene H
Susan said…
This is a very important post. There are so many people caring for others--whether they be elderly parents or an infirm spouse. My husband and I spend a lot of our time caring for our mothers (who are both in their 90s) but haven't faced the care of a spouse yet. We do have friends who are dealing with a terminally ill partner. I am looking for ways to help when offering to stay with the spouse is not an option (not because I am not willing, but because the ill spouse would not want it). Any ideas would be welcome.
Duchesse said…
Charlene Hisayasu: Thank you, I am heartened that these posts resonate. Your restaurant sounds wonderful.

Susan: I wrote a post on this in 2016; the ideas may be useful:
Francie Newcomb said…
This is so sweet, and so sad, thank you.
Melissa Hebbard said…
It is sad that the family are not wishing to enter respite care to give a brief break for your neighbour. I think that sometimes those being cared for are so wrapped up in their own misery, illness or infirmities that they fail to see the enormous stress that they place on the carer. Respite is vital for all in this position. Maybe those being cared for may not enjoy their brief stay in Respite Care but it will give their carers a vital break which will give them renewed strength to keep going, and those being cared for will get an increase in appreciation for what is being done for them at home. I would say that the neighbour is rather being taken for granted and HER needs are being ignored. They will have to go into respite if she is so stressed that her health breaks down and she has to go into hospital!!!
Twelve Riches said…
Beautifully written - very touching.
All the best.
sensitive poet said…
Joni Mitchell: "I've seen clouds from both sides now"...My husband and I will be 68 this year, and he and I have taken turns being the sick one. He needed a double hip replacement (done simultaneously!) last year and I took care of him. Previous to that, I was paralyzed in 1 leg for the better part of year after my hip replacement, and he wheeled me around in a wheelchair, taking care of me when I needed it.
Yes, it was very stressful, but it brought out both the best and worst of us. People in chronic pain often become short tempered, and behave in ways that are out of character. When the pain remits (eg after taking a pain killer), a simple apology, a loving recognition of everything a partner does, goes a long way.
When the shoe is on the other foot, remembering that an uncharacteristic outburst, is the result of pain...it's only the pain (or disease) speaking, that is not really your loved one saying these things, and that forgiveness is essential. BTW We're celebrating our 30th anniversary this year, and not taking our current good health for granted!
Duchesse said…
Sensitivepoet: Beautiful, and thank you fir expanding the point of view into the «  taking turns » arena. So much love in your comment.

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