By George Shannon
It’s true, the life of a caregiver can be demanding, difficult and daunting. I spent seven years of my life in that role, keeping an eye on my wife’s every move. Just about every night, Carol and I awoke from our slumber at least five times to make trips to the bathroom. We spent endless nights in hospitals and long days in doctor’s offices.
If given the chance to do it all over again, I would. Those years of being a caregiver constitute the best seven of my life. I learned a ton about myself and my family, became a more fulfilled man, and had the incredible chance to fall in love with my wife all over again.
While I could easily list 20 wonderful things about serving in a caregiving role, here are five very important and unexpected rewards:
1. A Better Relationship
When I started being a caregiver, time slowed down. Because the role can be so demanding, you must focus on the person. In the process, you learn what makes them tick — maybe things you hadn’t noticed before. Putting these nuggets of wisdom to use can make that person so happy, which in turns makes you feel good.
For Carol it was pancakes. When she needed a boost, a single pancake could do the trick. Every once in a while, she’d be down in the dumps. The minute I saw this, we were on the way to our local breakfast joint. Carol’s smile would make my day.
2. Precious Moments
Similarly, you get to be a part of some very special moments. Before my wife’s strokes, we’d spend some time together but did our own thing most of the time. After Carol got sick, I spent 90 percent of my time with her and I got to be a part of so many meaningful moments.
Her father had come to live with us for a few years during her illness. He was around 90 at the time. Every night the Pittsburgh Pirates played on TV, they stood, held hands and sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” every time. You could just feel the love and joy between them. I’ll never forget those moments.
3. Discovering Humility
This might be the most hidden of rewards. Before my wife became ill, I was a decent man and generally thoughtful of others, but my world had veered toward self-centeredness. I was set in my ways and had been accustomed to the order in my world.
At first, out of necessity, I began taking care of her needs. Soon thereafter, I started feeling good when I did things to help her. Then something tremendous occurred, I began to derive sustained joy when making her life better. By the time she died, I’d committed my life to completely serving her and felt total fulfillment. Why? I had become entirely selfless. There may not be a better feeling in the world.
4. A Deeper Relationship
As I gave myself over to her, my wife started to really feel the love. And in turn, she began outwardly show her love and appreciation. A day wouldn’t go by when she would tell me that “You’re too good to me,” or “Thanks for all that you do for me.” I never sought these assurances but when she’d offer them, it would light up my day. It was then I realized that we were falling in love all over again.
It was during this rekindled time that we showed our truest selves. From her, I got to see a hidden sense of humor and sharp tongue that often had me belly-laughing. For her, my wife saw a much more tender side and the softer edges of my soul.
5. A Stronger Family
Only one of my siblings and one of our three sons lived in Pittsburgh where I lived when my wife got sick. At first, I felt sort of alone in dealing with her health crisis but that didn’t last very long. The one son who lived the closest moved in for a year. My other two kids came by regularly and showered their mother with love. My siblings came by all the time and called when they couldn’t.
I’ve lived my life abiding by the philosophy that what happens to you isn’t as important as how you respond to it. My entire family responded with love, concern, help and support. Each time, their acts and deeds made Carol and I feel wonderful. I took great pride in seeing my family come together.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always easy. Yet, at the end of each day of caregiving, I always received a small gift — a sense of fulfillment. And now, when I look back at those seven years, I am reminded that my life had purpose which is the greatest reward of them all.
George Shannon chronicles his experience caring for Carol in his new book, “The Best Seven Years of My Life: The Story of an Unlikely Caregiver” (December 2018), which he wrote with his son, Chad Patrick Shannon. For more information, visit https://bestsevenyears.com.