Monday, December 13, 2010

We Don't Get to Choose

Wednesdays are movie days for Marty and me. We go early in the afternoon when there is virtually no one else at the theater. For someone who has worked all their life going to the movies in the early afternoon in the middle of the week is positively decadent, but then I’m a real bon vivant.

This week the movie choice was “Love and Other Drugs” a decent sort of romantic kind of comedy thing starring Jake Gyllenhaal and one really hot Anne Hathaway. The plot follows a shallow pharmaceutical salesman (Gyllenhaal) who meets weird Maggie (hot Hathaway). They have a lot of naked sex, eventually fall in love and break up because Maggie has stage 1 Parkinson’s. The line that got me was when she said, “I will always need you more than you need me.” It felt so familiar.

Gyllenhaal’s character, Randall, is faced with the most basic of questions, will I stay or will I go. Maggie bullies Randall into leaving and eventually he leaves Maggie to the natural course of the Parkinson’s. Randall is just like most a lot of us who are faced with a partner and catastrophic illness, we ask ourselves do I leave or do I stay.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking about bugging out from time to time. I have plotted; I have calculated how I could do it and still feel like a human being. I could find a great retirement home for Marty; I could get her set up, then leave, just go and never look back except to call the kids from time to time.

The overall feeling of anxiety and stress for caregivers is at times overwhelming. The worst part is that care giving is never-ending and the only true end is the worst end, death. The concept that cures are not forthcoming and that Marty will never really be better than she is right now, has always been the most difficult part for me to accept. I can do anything for a finite period of time, forever is a difficult concept when you are talking about caring for someone who cannot care for themselves.

I’m not entirely sure why leaving or staying was never a real choice for me. I’m not amazing, I’m not particularly benevolent or selfless, I’m not a natural caregiver, I’m none of those things. It has always felt like staying and taking care of Marty was the only right thing to do, it was the only thing I could do. Staying was not just the right choice, it was the only choice.

I remember wondering why Marty’s father did not put her mother into a nursing home after her health continued to decline. Marty asked him. He said it just wasn’t the right thing to do. Marty thought he was afraid of loneliness and facing the reality of his wife’s situation. I know it’s because he never really had a choice, it was what he had to do because he loved her, because it was what he promised her when they married, that he would care for her even when it got hard. I didn’t understand before, I do now.

There are millions of people today who provide some level of care for their spouse, their child, their parent, their partner or their relative. I can guarantee that almost all of them have at one time or another said, “screw it, I’m out of here,” and then in spite of it all stayed, not because they were saints but because it’s just what so many every day people do, it speaks well of the human condition.

Every time I have ever thought about ditching the whole thing I see Marty, I see her sitting in her wheelchair or laying in her bed and what I see is my wife who I love and I know loves me even when I want to run. What I see is a woman, who has had so much of the best parts of her taken away, yet she still smiles, she still laughs, she still loves the people around her, she still corrects me and completes my sentences, she still really loves me and she really needs me to be better than I am. When I think about it, when I think about the line in the movie about her needing me more than I need her, I’m not sure. I suspect the cold truth is I need her every bit as much as she needs me and I’m happy with the choices I’ve made.

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