After caregiving

Estrangement, divorce, and getting blocked

In March of 2019, Dr Phil made an infamous comment that "You can either be his lover or you can be his caregiver, but you can't be both…100 out of 100 times, this won't work."

The internet disagreed. I was delighted to see the explosion of posts from interabled couples using the #100outof100 tag.

The awkward truth is that my own track record supports Dr Phil’s false claim.

I don’t believe that all relationships that involve caregiving will inevitably fail. I know relationships can be reciprocal, regardless of the physical and intellectual abilities of the people involved.

Still, the relationships I’ve been in that have involved supporting a partner through a life-altering physical or mental condition have failed. We didn’t make it through.

All and fail are strong words.

One of those ‘failed’ relationships has turned into a meaningful and rewarding friendship after years of estrangement.

It’s okay for relationships to evolve. I’m proud of how we’ve grown, together and apart, over the years. Our friendship has a level of honesty and intimacy that our romantic partnership, so many years ago, never developed. We did our best at the time. Now we’re both very different people, while still being very much the same.

Our after caregiving group is one of our most active communities. It’s open to anyone who has served as a caregiver and now finds themselves either no longer providing care or doing dramatically less care.

Mostly, though, the conversations reflect the experiences of people who were caring for someone who has died.

The group is kind and incredibly supportive. When people post about the weirdness of adjusting to a life after recovery, they’re there for them. When someone posts about a care recipient breaking up with them, they provide support. When people feel conflicted about handing over the bulk of care work to someone else, they listen and don’t judge.

Still, sometimes it makes sense to have a group for a specific circumstance. Grieving a death, grieving a major life change (including a role you may not have wanted!), and grieving an estrangement are pretty different.

This is why I’ve set up a group for people whose role as a caregiver has ended due to estrangement.

Many people find they have to remove themselves from a relationship, temporarily or permanently, with a parent, grandparent, partner, friend, neighbor, whoever because it’s become unhealthy. The best thing to do is separate ourselves, whether propelled by love or anger.

Some relationships end on terms other than our own. A long overdue attempt at setting boundaries has ended many a relationship. Perhaps we know, or think we know, why it’s ended. Perhaps we don’t. Either way, it’s over.

It can be especially difficult to find people who understand the emotions we experience when an unhealthy helping relationship has ended. Friends are ready to badmouth the other party or admonish us for abandoning someone who depends on our care.

It’s a complicated sitution with a mix of emotions that’s hard enough for us to understand, nevermind someone else.

We’ve set up a new private Facebook group for people whose role as a caregiver has ended or been significantly reduced due to estrangement and emotional distancing: after caregiving transitions.

This group is also a home to people who have experienced estrangement because of their role as a caregiver.

Perhaps your marriage didn’t survive the stress of caring for an elderly parent. Perhaps the experience of co-parenting a child with disabilities was more than you could navigate as a couple. Perhaps a close friend stepped away because she disagreed with your caring decisions.

So many relationships, romantic or otherwise, don’t make it through the life changes caregiving brings us.

Join After Caregiving Transitions

Thanks to the members and moderators who’ve encouraged me to set this up! I look forward to our conversations.

If you’re reading this on Monday morning, you can catch Donna Thomson and Zachary White discussing how to respond to chaos, crisis, and change today at 2pm est. It’s free with registration on eventbright.

The March of Dimes Canada also has other events coming up for caregivers.

Are you struggling with resentment? Catherine Andrews has some sound advice on how to recognize resentment as an invitation to identify and meet your needs.

More on our recent discussion of reciprocity: People aren’t problems.

More on how social media is keeping small talk alive during the pandemic.

I spent most of the pandemic in places where I had a separate entrance. That meant I saw neighbors coming and going: on walks with the dog, while taking out the trash, while shoveling snow. We were outside and already well over 6’ apart, so we were free to chat for a few minutes in a way that felt normal.

Now that I’m back at home in my apartment — which happens to be in a naturally occurring retirement community in a COVID hot spot — there are no opportunities for small talk. When I see my neighbors we’re masked up and eager to escape the confined space of the hallway. The friendly banter of our laundry room has been replaced by nothing, since it’s always empty these days. I’m grateful for social media making it easy for us to stay in touch, even if it’s not quite the same.

This is an advertorial for a startup that perpetuates the inequalities built into the US healthcare system. It also does a great job of explaining what it’s like to go to the doctor in the US and why it’s such a miserable experience. There have been a number of startups using this model of concierge care provision in the past few years. I’m hoping it’s something that becomes accessible to all, not just those who can pay for both insurance and concierge care.

My friends keep sending me news stories about scandals and I keep telling them “sorry, I’m only accepting stories about baby goats and phosphorescent sea creatures at this time.”

This post on women who have accomplished awesome things “late in life” is the alternative to the scandal stories and 30 under 30 list we all need. I feel fortunate to have grown up surrounded by strong, incredible people who show me getting older is something to embrace and celebrate.

If you want more of that, check out A Glorious Freedom by Lisa Congdon.

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