Everything I learned about loving a person with a chronic illness , I learned from my husband. I know I have been very fortunate in this way. Despite the vows, one can never be 100% sure how their partner will react when a spouse suddenly is diagnosed with something serious, draining, time consuming and physically challenging, physically changing and let’s not forget expensive. Chronic illness doesn’t just affect the person with it, but it changes the lives of all those that love that person.
For those loved ones out there trying to figure out how to behave, here’s four things you can learn from my husband.
Look Past the Physical Changes
At one time, I had a cannula up my nose, a prednisone moon face, hump neck, a belly that looked 9 months pregnant and so much facial hair I had to get a full-face wax (didn’t even know those existed!). Before the worst was over, I lost hair, gained rashes and developed a scar on my nose from a cancer scare that turned out to be another autoimmune related lesion.
I never once caught him looking at me any other way than he always had. He looked past all that and only seemed to see the wife that he loved all the years before and the wife that he wanted to love for many years to come. If he thought of me any differently based on my appearance, he loved me enough to hide it.
Ignore Their Shortcomings
Having a chronic illness produces a lot of side effect in life. Any typical shortcomings were exacerbated and new ones sprout up. Sometimes it is as simple as the house being a disaster or more complicated as severe moodiness and despair. Pain, fatigue, brain fog and any number of prescription side effects can take its toll. What I was able to do one day was no longer a predictor of what I could do the next.
Pointing out all the things the person was not able to accomplish is unproductive and hurtful. Rest assured, the chronically ill take constant inventory of their many failings. A more productive use of time would be to simply pick up some of their slack without fanfare.
Plan Fun While Being Mindful of Limitations
Aside from the most acute stage – life should not end when a chronic illness begins. It is usually difficult for a once capable person to have to rely on others for basic needs. Sometimes this encourages them to retreat rather than be a burden.
Plan fun outings, knowing they may need to end early or be cancelled (without any guilt or outward expression of disappointment). Let your loved one know all the ways in which you plan to support that person (physically, emotionally, or whatever during the event). Once trust is built, the one with the illness will not need to self-limit and instead can simply allow symptoms be their guide. In turn, the well person will make allowance for the other and so many exciting times can be had by all.
Keep Laughter Alive
This one seems self-explanatory to me. Laughter and smiles can be great medicine. Maybe if you aren’t a jokester (as my husband is) find a funny movie or TV show. Even finding situational humor can break the tension of the stress illness can put on a family. You both need permission to laugh at life, even (or especially) in the most dire times.