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CARING FOR GRACIE
When Gracie was 17, she was in a terrible car accident. Peter and Gracie met in Belmont College in Nashville and by then she had had more than 20 surgeries. They fell in love and got married. The car accident permanenttly injured Gracie and Peter had no idea how those injuries would play out as they got older. Three years after they were married, Gracie had a grand mal seizure. That was when Peter realized how badly she had been injured. As he read over the doctor’s notes, Peter felt hopeless. “For the first time in my life, I felt a despair that would hover over me for the next dozen years and one that still requires my vigilance to guard against,” says Peter. The events of that night changed Peter forever in the way he viewed life, doctors, other people, his wife and even God. Peter was a devoted husband. “My sincere desire to care for this extraordinary woman led me to begin this journey. I never imagined, however, that the road would contain such suffering, loss, heartache, self-sacrifice, failure and love,” says Peter.
To date, Gracie has had 80 operations, multiple amputations (both legs and multiple revisions on both legs), treatment by more than 60 physicians in dozens of hospitals, seven different insurance companies and medical costs of more than $10 million! As her sole caregiver for more than 30 years, Peter says he pushed his massive despair he felt that first day into an emotional box. “It’s not easy caring for a suffering human being – one who lives with severe disability and intractable pain,” he says. Peter says he often tells his wife, “You’re easy to love, but you’re hard to love well.” He says caretakes often struggle with feelings of isolation and loss of identity. “We lose our independence,” says Peter. “We lose our melody.”
AVOIDING THE LAND MINES
“What I try to help other caregivers to understand is that their melody is important too,” he says. “We’re so busy trying to carry someone else we don’t realize how much we need Christ, too.” Every day people ask him how Gracie is doing. “I can count how many ask how I’m doing.”
The 7 landmines caregivers need to be aware of are:
- Navigating through emotional fog. Emotions change but God does not.
- See the heart, not the chart. When entire conversations revolve around medical information, that’s an indicator that matters of the heart are being shoved aside.
- The hardest job. Don’t try to tackle it alone and don’t deny yourself the care you need to do the job right.
- Beyond guilt. Caregivers go from crisis to crisis and the stress dulls the senses and when guilt sets in, they work harder, denying themselves more. Guilt destroys relationships.
- Fear is a four-letter word. The dangers in caregiving are real. With God’s help, you can meet those challenges with confidence and calmness.
- Isolation. The caregiver is left to fend alone without meaningful interaction outside of a bleak situation. Remain engaged in church, community and other social networks.
- Loss of identity. A caregiver’s identity can become lost in the details of the one they care for and this can lead to many other problems like codependency, resentment, depression, etc.
The best way to help a caregiver is to see and acknowledge the internal conflict they are experiencing and gently walk them through learning to make better choices to not only help themselves, but ultimately help those they are helping.
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