The Fallible Caregiver Series: Asking Her Meaningful Questions
Last updated: July 2023
My wife, Rebekah (35), lives with stage 4 breast cancer. My duties as her caregiver have increased over the last 8 years of marriage, especially after a brain surgery last year went sideways.
Taking on more caregiving tasks
Rebekah is doing fairly well now but needs me more than ever for many simple life tasks. In our last marriage counseling session, I gained an insight that opened my eyes in some significant ways. I'm preaching here to myself first and to all caregivers second.
Participating in marriage counseling
We've been doing marriage counseling for about 3 months, mainly for relationship maintenance and to help us navigate how cancer challenges our togetherness.
Getting in touch with our feelings
Our counselor, Robert, rarely says much and instead lets us talk and "get in touch with our feelings." It's tremendously helpful, though, as Rebekah and I are master "emotion-stuffers."
In our last session, I realized I rarely asked Rebekah about her inner world. I'm great at asking her how she's doing and feeling. I ask her that every day. But my questions are geared toward her physical feelings rather than emotional or spiritual feelings.
Over the last few years, when I ask her how she's feeling, I aim for answers about her headaches, stomach issues, nausea, and energy levels. These are easy questions because they bring back quick, straightforward answers.
If her head hurts, I can get her a couple "percs" (percocets). If her stomach is upset, I can grab any number of the OTC (over-the-counter) meds we keep on top of the refrigerator. If her back hurts, I can lay her on the heating pad. I can make her tea or give her a Zofran if she's feeling nauseous.
It's hard to ask the deeper questions
In our last counseling session, I realized I couldn't remember the last time I asked how Rebekah was doing emotionally and spiritually. But here's the indictment against me: I already know she's not doing so hot in those areas, yet I don't want to broach the subject.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked her how she slept the night before.
"Not good," Rebekah said.
"Oh, how come?" I asked.
Rebekah replied, "Well, for one, you and Penny (our pup) were snoring together all night. But it was more than that. I was just wide awake with my mind racing about all kinds of things."
Not broaching the subject further
You'd think I would have asked about those "things" keeping her mind racing, but I didn't. I don't remember why I didn't ask her, but I just didn't want to open that box. I didn't want to go there.
Why? Because it's hard. I think it's even more difficult for men because our emotional toolbox is quite inept at diving deep into complex and messy emotional issues. It is also because I'm selfish and seek ease and comfort for myself.
Finding the courage to love
I realize now that by remaining selfish, shallow, and cowardly like this, I'm actively working to deaden my marriage and thus plant the seeds of my own unhappiness.
Asking the harder questions
Love equals attention, and my wife needs my attention. She needs to talk and get her feelings out, and I need to muster the courage to be a loving human and husband.
The next time you ask your spouse or partner how they are feeling, inquire about their inner world too. They need to find outlets and healing for this aspect of their being more than even their physical feelings.
Do you wish more people would ask you about your "inner world"?
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.