November is National Family Caregivers Month – a rather poignant and on-point month to celebrate caregivers. Another hallmark of November is, of course, Thanksgiving and the month we tend to reflect on what we are most thankful for. It is only appropriate to celebrate these two together—caregiving and thanksgiving—for it is the caring and giving by friends and family for which I am most thankful.
My husband, Collin, was diagnosed with ALS four years ago at the age of 41. I was right in the middle of prime caregiving for our two kids (7 & 11 at the time), plus the frequent babies who were in our care awaiting adoption as we serve as foster care parent volunteers for Gladney, a local adoption agency. Caregiving of children is what I loved most. It came easy. It felt natural. It is why I chose a career in pediatric nursing. However, despite all my passion and training, nothing can really prepare you for being the caregiver of a spouse. When we said our vows and I pledged to love Collin in sickness and in health, I truly meant it, but never dreamed I would be called to act upon those vows at the age of 40.
Caregiving encompasses so much more than just the physical day-to-day care. Tasks of bathing, toileting, dressing, grooming, feeding, etc., comprise only one component of caregiving. It is important to consider the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects, as well.
These are the areas where our friends and family have played a huge part in caregiving. From the beginning, they have exhibited so much love and extended unbelievable support and care to our family. Things like organizing memory-making vacations and outings, scheduling regular guys night on the back patio, frequent lunch visits by Collin’s prior work colleagues once he was no longer employed, learning how to work the accessible van and breathing machine so Collin can go on an outing without me, lacing up sneakers to run a race pushing Collin in a neon “stroller” contraption, helping fundraise for ALS research, and the list goes on and on.
These actions have provided tremendous emotional and social caregiving. In addition, our pastor comes to the house regularly to lend spiritual care and our church family has demonstrated lots of care and concern for our entire family. And the ultimate sacrifice and example of love has been Collin’s dad relocating from CA to be with us in TX to be actively engrossed in all aspects of his caregiving.
As the season of thanksgiving is upon us, I feel especially grateful to have so many caregivers in our lives helping us navigate the ever-changing, always challenging ALS world. Whether they are involved in the daily grind of physical care, intentional social interactions, lending emotional support or engaged in prayer with and for us, I am convinced we have the best caregivers around. My heart is filled with gratitude.
~ Emily Hadley