The Fallible Caregiver Series: Learning to Delegate for Her

Last February, my wife had brain surgery to remove 2 small tumors. There were unexpected outcomes resulting in her needing my care part of the time to now most of the time. She is getting better and making a comeback, but I still assume most of our life responsibilities and in taking care of her. I’m great at playing the strongman, I’m just not so great at keeping it up indefinitely. Eventually, my rope starts to fray and I fall apart.

In a previous article, I talked about recently starting marriage counseling with my wife. It’s helping and we are growing closer again and learning to redeem back elements cancer has stolen from us. The primary benefit of marriage counseling is simply providing us a safe place to open our hearts and share the pain and fear we are so good at stuffing down.

However, in this article I want to talk about another topic we discussed in one session with our therapist Robert: delegation.

I do not have to do everything

I’ve often wished we had a team of gnomes who lived under our house and would show up to work every morning at our front door. I feel like I should be in a circus because I can spin several dozen plates at one time. Spinning dozens of plates is how I live every day. I’m trying to grow 2 online businesses, write new books, work a part-time job, serve as my wife’s caregiver, and handle 99 percent of all our household living responsibilities.

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I take Rebekah to every single doctor’s appointment, infusion, prescription pick up, and every couple months make the 10-hour round trip drive from our house to Portland (OHSU) where her primary team of specialists work and where she also gets regular MRIs and CAT scans.

I push myself hard and when I eventually break, I also break hard. So in one of our last therapy sessions, Robert brought up the idea of delegating some of this to others. We don’t have a lot of outside help but we do just happen to live next door to Rebekah’s mom who is often willing to help.

I feel a certain sense of possessiveness over handling all my wife’s needs and it’s a challenge for me to let that go. I enjoy being her hero. But even heroes need rest or else their super powers lose their superness.

Sticking to the plan

We agreed - okay, I agreed - to step back some and allow Rebekah’s mother to fill in the gap sometimes. I’m doing okay with it and actually liking this new delegation thing. The other day, Rebekah needed to pick up a prescription and normally we would just do that together. But her pharmacy is in a neighboring city and the entire task takes about an hour. I asked her to see if her mom could do it. I initially felt a tinge of guilt, like I was coping out and flaking on my responsibility. But I remembered my counsel and stuck to the plan.

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It worked out great. Rebekah spent time with her mom, and I was free to do some other work. Two days ago Rebekah told me she needed to do some shopping and needed to hit 4 or 5 stores. It was not what I wanted to do, but normally it’s what I’d do. I asked if she could ask her mom because it was my day off and I had big plans to do nothing. I really needed to do nothing. Her mom was delighted, and they spent the entire day store hopping.

Preventing caregiver burnout

I’m liking this delegation thing but most importantly, it’s creating a small pressure release so I don’t break down. As caregivers, we don’t always have to be the strong man or the strong woman. We don’t have to do everything and we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t because it’s a sure recipe for crashing and burning.

The other insight I’m learning is that other people want to help, they either just don’t know how or we don’t let them because it’s "my job." It’s a lesson I’m having to learn over and over, but my primary job foremost is to care for myself so I can better care for others.

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