I have a song in An Unexpected Variety Show called “Real Love” which has lyrics like:
“Will you love me when I’m in a sick old hag, and I’ve traded my Gucci for a bladder bag?”
It was inspired by reading about a couple, the woman of which had been in a terrible car accident and how her husband had been so incredible becoming her carer. That, I remember thinking, is real love.
When I was caring for Mum, I would berate her often about her unwillingness to ask me for help. She would wait and wait and wait until she was absolutely DESPERATE to go to the toilet before she would ask me to. One morning she woke me up at 5am and confessed she’d soiled herself in the middle of the night and hadn’t had the heart to wake me. For three hours she’d been lying there in filth because she felt bad about asking for help. She felt terribly guilty, “I’m such a burden to you,” she even said once, a statement I at once refuted and told her that on the contrary, this experience was a blessing. Having this time together was a blessing.
But now, being on the other end of the carer/cared relationship, I get it.
It’s incredibly confronting to realise how damn hard it is to ask for help, EVEN WHEN YOU UNDENIABLY NEED IT!
You do feel like a burden. You do not want to wake the other person even though you’re needing to go the toilet because it’s not fair that they need to rearrange their life and deprive themselves of sleep on your behalf. You’re sick and tired of the sound of your own voice saying “could you please pass-me-that-thing/get-me-a-drink-of-water/help-me-to-the-bathroom/fetch-me-a-Scottish-unicorn” over and over and over again.
Yet I have to remind myself that when the shoe was on the other (unbroken) foot, I was genuinely happy to help. I wanted to be woken. I wanted to be asked. I wanted to do whatever I could, not just for her (though of course I wish I were that altruistic) but for me. Because guess what? Helping somebody other than yourself feels good. It feels purposeful. It feels like you’re doing something that matters.
And more than anything, caring for somebody – as Mum so clearly showed me – is such an incredible and profound way to understand and practice what love really is.
Jon is showing me this more and more every day. His graciousness, his unflappability, his tender and unbothered way, even as he has to lift my wheelchair to hike it over the step into our bathroom for the umpteenth time, even as I’m holding the sick bag in his car and being violently ill right in front of him, even when it’s the middle of the night and he’s exhausted and he’s scrambling to find my pain medication as quickly as he can, even when I’m going through a burst of feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning the fact I won’t be able to set foot into Clown Doctor world til I can walk again which goodness knows when that will be…there’s never even a hint of “I’m over this” or “I’m over you” or “I JUST WANT TO SLEEP WOMAN!”
Instead he strokes my hair, gives me a kiss and tells me he loves me.
It’s such a bizarre twist of fate that this should be the event that helps us see more clearly than ever, but isn’t that just life?