One of the things that has been difficult about my new life has been learning to mesh the role of respectful and honoring wife with that of caretaker. It is, in a sense the art of living a double life. As I have mentioned, much of Strokeman’s personality and memory is intact from before the stroke. He perceives our relationship as being mostly the same, and is sometimes not too receptive to my overruling his decisions, or requiring certain things of him. I perceive our relationship as largely changed, and am sometimes not too good at maintaining our friendship. As the days roll on, he is slowly (sometime excruciatingly slowly) regaining some of his self motivation and ability to see the sense in what I am requiring. That, coupled with an increase in sleep has made me a bit more capable of working on the relationship stuff. However, I find that there is rarely a time when I can lay one role aside for the other.
It does not sit well with me to have to say things along the lines of, “If you want me to show affection, you must bathe.” I have never felt that affection should be used as a bargaining chip in a marriage relationship. On the other hand, I never had to require Strokeman to be clean prior to that fateful day when his head had an internal explosion. So now, I think it is reasonable to ask him to not stink if he wants to be around me. But does he think that is reasonable, or does he see it as me making excuses to not be affectionate? And let’s be honest here, some days I don’t feel much like being affectionate, and might be prone to come up with excuses. I have to constantly have what my pastor so aptly calls a “healthy suspicion” of myself. That means, I need to consider my motives and be sure that I am doing what I can to fulfill my role as a loving wife and companion, while not enabling Strokeman to be lazy and irresponsible. It’s kind of like doing cartwheels on a balance beam.
While I am lovingly serving him as a wife, I can’t just turn off that side of me that must be committed to his rehabilitation. So when he asks for a cookie after lunch, I might set it down in the area that is hidden by the blind spot in his eyes, so he will have to scan left to look for it. When he wants a hug, I do my best to make sure his left arm is being incorporated – mirroring what the right arm is doing instead of just hanging at his side. If we happen to be standing and hugging, I try to think of ways to distract him, so that he will stand for a longer period of time. I also might try to shift my weight in a way that will make him have to put more weight on his left leg, instead of depending only on his right. Consequently, I am never just “in the moment” with him. This sub-plot is always cranking away in my mind.
I have had to learn, also, that anticipating his needs and tending to them without giving him a chance to do them for himself is more crippling to him than the stroke. Instead, I have to not be quite so available. I take a little longer to respond, I put things a little further from him. I make him try to do things for himself before I help. He doesn’t like this, and consequently, I have often given in far too quickly.
I struggle constantly with frustration and anger at him for not being willing to try harder. I would like to think that he would want to live life with me bad enough to get past some of his fears and dependencies. Unfortunately, his ability to weigh the level of risk to the level of consequences is not really all that good. For instance, to him the risk of perhaps having to use a port-a-potty at the soccer fields (very little chance at all) is far greater than the risk of losing his relationship with his granddaughters and daughter by staying home (very big chance).
Lately I have had to face up to my own culpability in his lack of independence. I don’t stick to my guns. I give in far too easily, and he is more than happy to let me continue to do it all for him. It is a bitter pill to swallow to see that his recovery has been slowed by my lack of backbone. I have not rehabilitated my own thinking quickly enough to do what is in his best interest. I am still learning to do what I can to preserve his dignity by including him in decisions, and listening to his opinions with respect, while shooting straight with him about how his choices are affecting him and the people around him.
So I have repented once again, and am working to push myself beyond my comfort zone in order to push him beyond his. I have begun to look for a part-time job that will get me out and away from him for a few hours each day. He is more than capable of being independent, but as long as I am here doing things for him, he will not be forced to try. I imagine that if I let him he will be content to lay in the bed the entire time I am gone. It will take some creativity on my part to figure out how to coax him out of the bedroom and into the rest of the house. But I am determined to try. Even as I work at my job, the subplot will be working its way through my mind. And I will continue to live my double life.