A few weeks ago I experienced wild, irrational rage twice with different people close to me, rage that was quite uncharacteristic for me. I discussed this with my doctor in terms of caregiver burnout and she was deeply concerned for me, as was the visiting nurse a couple of weeks later. We all know that it is time for my loved one to go but the strain and breakdown showing up in me were of serious concern to my family and friends but also to the medical profession. They are very familiar with the phenomenon of caregivers pre-deceasing their loved ones. Since those bursts of rage, I have experienced crushing anxiety and the concomitant desperate need to control the situation or what someone is doing in an attempt to control my anxiety. This too is way out of character for me.
Meanwhile, this week my wife has begun experiencing sudden bursts of intense weeping, seemingly out of nowhere and hard to fathom beyond the general assumption that her mother’s decline is getting to her now, the way it has been getting to me for the last couple of months. As the day-in, day-out caregiver I have been faced with the reality of her decline in a way that my wife had not due to her necessary immersion in her demanding career.
I found the following excerpt in a spiritual blog on dark night of the soul which speaks to me about these sudden dislocations in our functioning and sense of self:
To enter into a spiritual darkness is to begin an excruciating and intensely distressing journey into of the essence of our own impermanence. A dark night is a pervasive and unavoidable calling deep into the realm of the soul… it is a spiritual endeavour that places us firmly in the landscape of our own inadequacies and frailties… (it) amputates our sense of identity as if removing a mask we forget we were wearing… (it) is not merely an identity crisis, it is the sudden absence of identity and an absolute loss of self. A dark night of the soul is the medium in which we learn about our own suffering, and to learn about suffering is to pursue the essence of our unique presence here in this life. http://exploring-life.ca/2144/dark-night-of-the-soul-1/
It is not surprising that my wife and I are experiencing this disorienting threat of loss as we are very different people with significantly different relationships to the loved one we are both losing. In a house built around the care for her parents, her Mom is leaving and already I imagine her absence. For my wife, the threat is more in anticipating the traumas, like perhaps powerlessly watching her Mom choke to death as last night for the first time she experienced having to sit and watch her first serious choking episode. Her mom’s decline now includes swallowing difficulties with both liquids and solid foods resulting in coughing and spluttering and choking from time to time. I have explained that these are painful inconveniences but not likely to be fatal as she never truly has anything in her mouth that could block her windpipe.
We are both mature souls who are able to appreciate our spouse’s unique struggles, so we are less likely to get pulled in as a result, although of course this kind of systemic stress always spills over into the caregiver couple’s relationship. It is a difficult journey together as we are coming unpinned in some ways but looking to pass through these experiences rather than running from them.
Pray for us.