Being Thankful for the Gifts of Caregiving

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

My time of caregiving for my husband throughout his years of living with MS included its share of stress and struggle, yet caregiving also brought many gifts. I discovered hidden internal resources and developed new skills that stretched my understanding of what I could do.

Through embracing the challenges of caregiving, I learned to trust myself to do what had to be done to care for my husband, Michael, despite my self-doubt and lack of experience. For example, in the latter stages of Michael’s disease, I learned to accomplish procedures that only an RN could comfortably do, such as administering IV medications and changing his Foley catheters while maintaining a sterile environment. As his condition worsened, Michael came to trust me more and more, and I was able to ensure that he received the right medical care and the right follow-up—from me.

Though I developed new confidence in myself and in my ability to meet the challenges of caregiving, I was not immune to making mistakes. Fortunately, I was able to take my mistakes in stride, though not without regret, and I was able to learn from them. Over the years, by building upon past experiences, both positive and negative, I became more knowledgeable and able to respond appropriately to new challenges as they occurred. 

My compassion for Michael increased over my time as a caregiver as did my compassion for myself. As being his caregiver became more complicated and stressful, I hired a wonderful woman who helped me take care of Michael. I was able to recognize my need for help with understanding rather than guilt, and because I wanted the best for my husband. 

More than ever in my life, I turned to my dreams and spiritual practices for insight and direction, and they served me well. I paid careful attention to the archetypal figures that appeared in my dreams. On one occasion, I dreamt of a strange goddess. I saw a young woman who had been enchanted; eyes had appeared all over her head and in her long, dark hair. She was beautiful. I sensed that this dream was showing me that my awareness was increasing and that I was becoming more conscious of my nurturing feminine energy with the intuition and collaborative power it brings. Goddess figures offered me insight into the importance of power with as opposed to power over and guided me in working collaborative with Michael, paying attention to his fears and opinions as well as his needs. 

Powerful masculine figures in my dreams helped me develop the assertiveness to effectively deal with the medical system when it wasn’t working in Michael’s best interest. On one occasion, Michael was in the hospital with a recurrence of aspiration pneumonia, and after several days he still was not responding to treatment. I ask his doctor, Dr. Palmer, to confer with the doctor who, earlier that year, had successfully cured Michael of aspiration pneumonia. It seemed to me that the treatment that worked before might do so again. Dr. Palmer refused to contact this doctor, who was located in another hospital in the same system. When he switched Michael from IV antibiotics to the oral form, I knew he was doing this too soon. I expressed my concerns, but the doctor abruptly informed me that he knew best. End of discussion. Well, I knew differently. 

I had to find the assertiveness and faith in my own judgement to fire Dr. Palmer. It wasn’t easy for me to confront the doctor, but I felt compelled to do so. Fortunately, I was able to find another hospital doctor who was willing to take Michael’s case. He readily agreed to consult with the doctor who had treated Michael previously, and one of the first things he did was to put Michael back on IV antibiotics with a new combination of drugs. At last, I felt reassured and could relax in the belief that Michael was once again in good hands. 

In addition to dreams, other spiritual pursuits helped me become a better caregiver. For example, consulting the Medicine Cards brought me Native American wisdom, and my continuing involvement in Tibetan Buddhism helped sustain and direct me. As time went on, caregiving became a vehicle for my personal and spiritual growth that points the way for me still. 

It’s amazing how necessity can teach us new behaviors and foster a new belief in ourselves. With love as our guide and caring for a loved-one as our purpose, we can discover the many gifts of caregiving. I would love to know what gifts you are thankful for. Please leave a comment.

Dreams of Loss and Inspiration

Dreams have always fascinated me. Some tell of a future we’d rather not face; others bring insight and inspiration. Below are some dreams from my memoir, Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Transformative Journey, in which I write about the years I cared for my husband, Michael, who suffered from multiple sclerosis:

More than once, in the summer months after his collapse, Michael asks, “What is happening to me?” It’s more a bewildered lament than a question.

As his legs stubbornly refuse to respond to his will, he begins to feel that his body has betrayed him. He can no longer control it; he is no longer himself, and his image of his old self is inexorably slipping away.

Our growing anxiety continues to be echoed in our dreams. In a recent one of Michael’s, he’s driving a big truck down the highway when suddenly he loses control and panics; the truck veers sharply out of its lane. He is terrified.

In one of my own dreams, I witness a showdown. We’re somewhere in the Wild West. Michael appears youthful, in jeans and a plaid cotton shirt. We want to go through a gate in a fence, but a huge, intimidating animal bars our path. It looks like a kangaroo with a seal’s head, and, as Michael attempts to pass, it continues to threaten him. He’s afraid, but he confronts this unnatural-looking animal, refusing to flee. I can see his body begin to shake, and he finally decides to turn back. I, in turn, am left to wonder whether I have the strength and courage to face down this beast by myself.

I share many dreams in my memoir. Some, such as these, foretell ominous events while others are positive, revealing internal resources that assist me on my caregiving journey. In one of the latter, I dream of a strange goddess. I see a young woman who has been enchanted; eyes appear all over her head and in her long, dark hair. She is beautiful. I sense that this dream is showing me that my awareness is increasing now and that I’m also becoming more conscious of my nurturing feminine energy and intuition and the collaborative power it brings.

Have you had dreams that you’d like to share?


When my husband, Michael, was confined to a wheelchair, for seven days he was immersed in a rigorous program of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and group therapy led by a licensed clinical social worker. All this happened when he qualified for treatment in our HMO’s rehabilitation facility. He had a written schedule that hung in a plastic sleeve from his wheelchair, and he was responsible for being at the right place at the right time. He had the benefit of excellent medical staff, who carefully selected and tracked his programs and therapies, and his admitting doctor oversaw his treatment and progress. Although he had a regular hospital bed in a four-man ward, he was rarely in it except to sleep at night and, sometimes, to rest for a couple of hours in the afternoon. He took his meals in a group room and participated in the activities and movies that were provided for patients during their free time. I was able to visit him whenever I wanted, but because the facility was quite a distance from home, I didn’t come every day. I was able to take some time off for myself, secure in knowing that he was well taken care of.

            Michael got more cheerful while he was there. The hospital was laid out to accommodate wheelchairs, and the wide hallways made it easy for him to wheel around to the various rooms. 

            “I thought I was getting better,” he told me when I visited one day. “But the doctor tells me my MS isn’t disappearing. It’s just easier for me here. Everything’s laid out for a wheelchair, and I have all kinds of support.”

            He did make progress, however, and as his functioning improved, he saw new possibilities opening up for him. His balance and walking got better. He became independent in upper-body dressing, only needing help with pants, socks, and shoes, and his confidence improved. Physical therapy increased his strength and range of motion, and when he came home, he had an exercise program designed to maintain his gains. 

            Two caring women in the occupational therapy department got Michael approved for a customized, electric power chair. It had mid-wheel drive, which made it highly maneuverable, and Michael loved it. When he took it out for a test drive in the parking lot and garage, he put it through its paces. The chair passed the test and, thanks in large part to Medicare (which Michael had received early due to his disability status), he was finally outfitted with what he needed.  

            While I was visiting him one day, the physical therapist asked Michael if he would like to stand up. “You bet!” he said. So, the physical therapist strapped Michael onto a standing board. This device gradually raised him from a prone position to almost 90 degrees. 

            The first thing he said when he was “standing” was “I want to hug my wife.” 

I moved close and embraced him, and he put his arms around me. It was the first time we had held each other this way in years. I was a little self-conscious being in a room full of people but feeling the full length of his body against mine was sublime. I closed my eyes, rested my head on his chest, and savored the moment. We held each other until the therapist came to crank Michael down.

            I highly recommend checking out rehab possibilities if your loved-one qualifies. For Michael, it was definitely time well spent.