When we marry, part of what the person officiating says is to the couple getting married, as part of the vows, is that this is “…in sickness or in health…” These are important words to commit to the person we marry out of love and care. We heard this a few weeks ago when Monica got married. We heard this 25.5 years ago when Debbie and I got married. We heard this 11.5 years ago when Jeff and Magda got married.
The picture above is of my brother, Jeff, who we are very proud of. Jeff belongs to the small, and sometimes overlooked, category of people called caregivers. My first introduction to this group of special people came when we used to walk in the Relay for Life. A caregiver is a family member who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person. The program spent time talking about the caregivers, had a caregiver speech and a dedicated lap for them to walk. Today, I want to take some time on one special caregiver – my brother, Jeff.
Last week, I wrote about the loss of my sister-in-law, Magda. During most of her battle with cancer, Jeff did what any caring, loving husband would do. He searched out the best doctors to provide the best care for his wife. Whether the doctor was local, in New York City, or even in Houston, they went to provide the best chances for extending Magda’s life. Last May, while visiting my dying aunt (also of cancer) in Florida, Magda lost her balance and fell. Unfortunately, this was a sign that the cancer she had been fighting had begun to affect her lower body, and after that, Magda no longer walked.
When married and the times are good, it is easy to live by the wedding vow “…in health…”, however, the true mettle of the relationship is tested at times when “…in sickness…” is unfortunately added the couple.
Jeff immediately learned how to move and, at times, carry Magda. You see, years ago, in one of her surgeries, Magda had ribs removed. While this resolved the crises at that point, she was left with constant pain. Moving her, Jeff always had to consider how to place his arms. My brother still needed to work, so for the month of July and August, he had daytime help – Gab (proud of her for helping). As the summer ended, and the need to still work, Bec (proud of her) helped find and hire an aide. Even though Jeff was the around the clock caregiver, he still needed to work and run errands. Last year, Magda wanted to do a girls trip to Aruba. Debbie (proud of her), was the caregiver on the trip.
The sad thing about cancer is that, unless you are in remission, you continue to deteriorate over time. This meant that Jeff had to take on more roles. Laying in the same position, whether a bed, a chair or a couch, can lead to sores. Jeff had to become the nurse. Over the last six months, I cannot begin to list out the different things that Jeff learned in caring for Magda. It had reached the point where no family member could help for more than a few hours. For Jeff to go on an errand, play hockey, have band practice, etc., someone had to be with Magda. Jeff went above and beyond what most people would do for a spouse. Caregiver, aide, and nurse – due to the level of care provided, he learned to survive with little sleep. When we had band practice, there was the walkie-talkie on the music stand and the running up between songs to check on Magda. Towards the end, Debbie, or other friends would sit with Magda so that Jeff could play, as this was much needed down time for him.
When asked about bringing in more help, Jeff responded, “I want to spend as much time together as we can.” That is devotion; that is the commitment one makes in the wedding vows when they say “…in sickness or in health…” Jeff tended and cared for Magda right up to the end.
As a family, we are all pulling together to care for the caregiver that gave so much of himself, in a truly selfless manner. We still need Jeff in our lives. I do not yet know if there is a cure for a broken heart, a salve to ease the pain of loss, or an ointment to make happy memories not bring on tears. What I do know, is that like the way Magda leaned on Jeff, it is now time for Jeff to lean on us. We are proud for the example that he provided and we will be there for him while he goes through the tough road ahead.