Have you ever felt like you were straddling a fence? Picture yourself in the farmyard — perched on that fence. On one side is a beautiful green pasture with a fantasy world filled with wild flowers and horses romping in the sun. On the other side is the paved highway with cars speeding by on their way to the real world of work and commitments.

That’s how I felt as a caregiver to my husband. I was sitting on a reality fence and just couldn’t get the nerve to step down into the fantasy world. On the real world side of my fence, I saw Jim slip from a healthy, strong, active man to a nearly helpless, wheelchair bound victim of lung cancer and stroke.

In the real world, I watched him go through radiation therapy and the vomiting and weakness that came with the package. I saw him go from totally independent to partial paralysis. From walking unaided to using a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair, to having to wait for help to be transferred to and from his chair. In the real world I saw him lose his appetite and stop eating altogether. I tried everything I could think of to entice him to eat something — anything.

In the real world, I saw him slip from totally alert, to confused and forgetful, to comatose.

If you are a caregiver — you know the drill.

In my fantasy world — on the other side of the fence – I would dream of a miracle recovery. Sometimes, in his darkest days, I would consider the possibility of assisted suicide. I clearly recall two requests to help him end his pain.

Once he asked me to get a gun somewhere — anywhere — and bring it to him. Another time he asked me to give him all of the morphine I had at home.

One Friday night I stayed with a friend and helped her as we watched her husband take his last breath. I was so moved by the experience. I felt grateful for the opportunity to be with my friend when she needed me. I also felt bitter and even angry that it wasn’t my husband that was able to end his pain.

The next day, Saturday, my husband was in and out of consciousness all day. By Sunday he was in a semi coma state, waking for mere moments and not able to speak clearly.

On my fantasy side of the fence, I imagined giving my love a few pills and sitting there holding his hand as he gently fell asleep with a serene smile on his face. I kissed his cheek as he drew his last breath and both of us lived happily ever after; each in our own world.

Meanwhile, as I sat perched on my caregiver fence, I was very aware of the consequences of such a mercy act. I held my husband in my arms as his body slowed down, literally, and finally stopped working.

In my real world he didn’t slip peacefully into sleep with a serene smile. He was visibly scared and fought to the end. I held him in my arms, sobbing with him and rocking him like a baby. I kept telling him that it was going to be OK. I kept reassuring him that I was going to be OK.

There was nothing serene and peaceful about the experience. Not until he had drawn his final breath and I laid my head on his stilled chest. His death removed my fence and my real world meshed with my fantasy world.

As I waited three hours for the funeral director to come, I had the opportunity to see the reality of that fantasy world. My husband was no longer suffering — no longer in pain and helpless. He, at last, was free. I was no longer perched on my fence.

Have you ever felt like you were straddling the Caregiver Fence?

Copyright by Shaywardncr 01/17/00