Tag Archive | caretaker

A Rude Awakening

I would imagine that some of you who haven’t experienced what its like to live with a disabled person might find my blog uninteresting. After a year’s hiatus from writing this blog, I decided to write about the day-to-day struggles of a care taking. Not to make you all feel sorry for me. That is not my intent at all. I just want to provide a relief value for all the other men and women who are in a similar boat. I want them to know they are not alone. Some people find help in support groups, but I don’t. I’m not comfortable with them. I do find some comfort in knowing if I tell my story, maybe some of you will share yours. At the very least, maybe I’ll help someone else.

I think of all the soldiers returning home from the Middle Eastern war with missing legs and arms and traumatic brain injuries. All of them will need help from their wives and parents who overnight got thrown into the role of caregiver. When you love someone more than yourself, caregiving isn’t a duty, it’s a choice.

I find myself walking a fine line. Sometimes I do too much. Sometimes I feel I don’t do enough. The last thing I want to do is take away Ken’s power. We talk about this and came to the decision I must stand back and allow Ken to try to take care of himself as much as he can. This is tough because I’m a fixer. I’m also impatient. What takes him an hour I can do in a few minutes.

This morning Ken struggled to get out of bed and crashed on the floor. I was jolted from a sound asleep until I heard his 170 pounds hit the hardwood floor. I asked if he was hurt; he replied “no” but he wanted to rest on the floor before trying to get up. Watching him lie there was hell.

I let the dog out, made coffee, and fed the cat his morning treat of wet food. Then I went back into the bedroom to aid Ken. I witnessed him trying to get back on his feet. He turned and twisted without much progress. I asked him if I should call for help, and he said no; he wanted to keep trying.

During the next ten minutes I watched him eventually get into his wheelchair. Now all we had to do was change his disposable underwear. Yeah. That’s part of his care too  — to change him when he has accidents. Most people cringe when I talk about such things, but cleaning up messes of all kinds fall into my job description.

The good news is Ken didn’t hurt himself. He may have a bruised butt, but his acceptance of such indignities with bravery is heroism in my book.


Chapter 27

Berlin, German-October, 1940—Leisel told herself she loved Franz, but for some odd reason accepting the fact they shared a baby scared her. Well into her second trimester, she still suffered extreme morning sickness, depression, and lack of energy.

Her mother grew concerned as she witnessed Leisel’s steady decline. She thought by now her daughter’s body would be adjusted to its pregnant state, but in Leisel’s case it seemed that as the baby grew stronger Leisel grew weaker. Mrs. Fuchs wanted Leisel to write to Franz and ask him to request a leave of absence, but Leisel resisted. She told her mother she didn’t want to be a burden to him because he needed to be on duty in order to build a successful military career. After all, she anticipated Franz would be away from home a great deal when she married him.  All military wives suffer the same way.

As the weeks went by, Leisel’s weariness became fatigue, and she often experienced pain she kept to herself. She admitted she didn’t miss Franz because of his behavior the last time she saw him at Christmas. When she told him about the baby, he glared at her and said, “Well, isn’t that just dandy. I hope you’re happy. I certainly am not!”

He dismissed this change in their married lives and went on for hours about the beautiful sights in Paris. He even mentioned an encounter with Marta, and boldly announced Paris seemed to make her more beautiful than before she left Germany.

He ignored Leisel’s health, even though her appearance clearly revealed her sickness.  Her hair thinned. She lost weight. Dark circles stayed beneath her eyes. Even her skin got dry and flaky. Instead Franz announced she looked fat and ugly before he went to carouse with his crass comrades. When he returned home drunk from his night out with the boys, he slept all day and woke yelling orders for his breakfast. He found fault with everything Leisel did and screamed he wished he never married her. Life with Franz Reinhart did not turn out to be the fairytale Leisel dreamed about.

When Franz returned to Paris, Leisel relaxed. She spent most of her time alone now because the other Nazi officer’s wives left her behind. Patience and empathy for Leisel proved to be two qualities the other women did not possess. They believed a good SS wife should take pregnancy in stride. Even her new friend Gretchen stopped coming around everyday. The women in this group centered their interests on attending parties and social functions to advance their husbands’ reputations. A few months ago Leisel enjoyed such frivolity too, but now parties didn’t seem important and there was no way she wanted help Franz with his career. She thought herself to be a failure as an SS officer’s wife. She wanted to tell her father the husband he picked out for her turned out to be an abusive bully but of course, he was off fighting the war too.

Leisel accepted her lonesomeness and centered on preparing for the baby’s arrival. She and her mother knit baby sweaters and booties. They sewed buntings and quilts. Leisel even painted a mural on the nursery wall of puppies and kittens romping happily in a meadow. As she painted, the life inside of her moved.

Time grew short before the baby would be with her, and Leisel looked forward to having someone love her. When the baby moved, she cooed to her child and professed her love. She prayed the baby would be a girl so she would never see the face of Franz in her child.

On a warm, beautiful September morning, Leisel woke feeling better than she had in months. She stretched and glanced out the window to a cloud-free blue sky and bright sunshine. The pain which plagued her for months was gone! She jumped out of bed and happily faced the new day until she saw the blood-stained sheets and a bloody mass. She checked her nightgown to find the same dark red stains. Terror flashed through her as she realized what happened.  “Oh my God!” she screamed. “No! Please God! Not the baby!” She wailed. “I can’t lose the baby! This must be a bad dream! I can’t even carry a baby!” A mournful moan rose from deep inside of her. Her dreams of a happy home with a little cherub disappeared in one night of fitful sleep.

Leisel stripped off her nightgown and dragged herself into the bathroom. Sobs shook her body as she filled the tub with hot water. She moved her hand over her now barren abdomen. Even her baby left her. Her husband didn’t love her, and her friends left to live far away. Her abandonment overwhelmed her as she slipped into the warm water. She sank into the deep tub and let the hot water take her away.

Later that afternoon, her mother found her dead body floating in a bloody tub. She screamed like a mad woman, but no neighbor came to her rescue. Her only child lay dead in a tub full of crimson water. Worst of all, she would never be a Groutter.

Chapter 28

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – November 1940—Josie and Anna took their midterms three weeks before the Thanksgiving break. Mrs. Schneider invited Anna to join the Schneider clan for the traditional holiday. Donna Jean would also share the family dinner. During the time she lived on the farm, Donna carved out a special place for herself in the Schneider family,

Peter picked up Anna and Josie at the train station. The girls threw their bags in the bed of the old Schneider truck, while he waited behind the steering wheel in the warm cab. Josie thought if Johnny picked them up, he would get out of the car, hug and kiss her, before he hoisted the heavy bags. At that moment Josie missed Johnny so much.

The ride home through the snow-covered landscape brought Josie back to her roots. Since she went away to school, this ride home never got dull. The girls settled back into the worn upholstered seat and enjoyed a sense of freedom. No more tests, classes or papers for the next week.

Josie turned to Anna. “I can’t wait for you to meet my friends Rosalie and Donna Jean. I think Mary, Johnny’s girlfriend, is joining us for dinner, too. We’ll all have a blast together.”

Anna smiled. “If your friends are like you, Josie, I’m in for a grand time.”

After Peter pulled into the Schneider backyard, the two girls lugged their suitcases filled with dirty laundry into the back hall. A warm, savory aroma of pot roast with potatoes and carrots wafted from the kitchen. Josie dropped her suitcase and rushed to hug her mother. “I am so happy to be home, Mom. Dinner smells wonderful!”

Mrs. Schneider returned Josie’s hug and welcomed Anna with the same welcoming gesture.

Josie asked, “Where’s Dad?”

“He’s out in the barn milking.”

“I’m going to tell him we’re home.” Josie ran out of the house and down to the barn. Anna followed in her wake.

On the way down the hill Josie yelled, “Dad! I’m home!”

She entered the barn, and her father glanced away from the cow he milked to give his daughter a wide smile. “Josie! So good to have you home again, pumpkin. Pardon me if I don’t get up.” He laughed. “Jenny here needs to be wooed before I milk her. I just got her into a cooperative mood.”

Mr. Schneider spied Anna peeking into the barn. “Don’t be shy, Anna. Come in.”

Anna covered her nose with her mitten. “Thanks Mr. Schneider, but I think I’ll save our reunion for in the house.”

Josie said, “Oh my God, Anna. I’m so sorry. I’m so used to barn aroma, I forgot you aren’t.”

“I’m fine, Josie but I’ll say hello to your Dad at the house.”

Josie and her father laughed. “City slickers!”

Josie searched the barn for Betsy but didn’t find her. “Dad, where’s Betsy?”

Her father hesitated. “We needed to put her down a couple of days ago, Josie.”

Josie leaned up against the stall like someone punched her in the stomach.  Her throat tightened. “What happened?”

“Josie, Betsy finally celebrated too many birthdays.”

Tears rose up in Josie’s eyes. “No.”

He stopped milking Jenny and faced Josie. “She got cancer, Josie. We needed to put her down. We tried to wait, but her pain got intense.”

Mr. Schneider wrapped Josie in a tight embrace and held her while Josie let her emotions spill out on his chest. “I raised her from the time she was a baby, Dad. I showed her at the fair, and she took the blue ribbon. Remember?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We tried to wait until you came home, Josie, but Betsy got too sick. You didn’t want us to make her suffer, did you?” Her father said softly. “I thought you would want the best for her.”

Josie looked up at her father with tear-stained cheeks. “Where is she?”

“We buried her at her favorite place-out by the big oak.”

Josie ran through ankle-deep snow to the old oak tree behind the barn. Under the tree a simple wooden cross read, “Betsy.”

Josie got down on her knees and traced the letters of her old friend. “Farmers should never get attached to their animals, but Betsy you were so different from the rest. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be here when you needed me. Please forgive me, girl. I will miss you so much.” Josie let her tears fall on the grave. She sniffled. “Maybe we’ll meet  in heaven someday.” Josie stood, stared at the marker for one last time, and then shuffled back to the house with her head down.


Josie’s parents made up a roll-a-way bed in Josie’s room with cotton sheets, a boiled wool blanket, and one of Mrs. Schneider’s handmade patchwork quilts for Anna. The girls giggled when Josie’s folks commented the room looked as though they moved their dorm room to the farm.

On Thanksgiving Day, everyone pitched in to prepare for the annual feast. Anna peeled potatoes and carrots, Josie peeled the apples for the pies, and her mother stuffed and basted a twenty-five pound turkey. Mary, her father, and two brothers would bring the pumpkin pies.

In between the stages of preparing the food, the girls set the large oak table with a special family tablecloth which her great-grandmother had embroidered as a young girl. The family saved it for this one special day each year.

Anna set the table with the “Sunday dishes” and silver-plated silverware Josie’s mother inherited from her mother. Anna added her special touch by folding the napkins into swans and placing them on the white china dishes trimmed in gold.

Donna Jean arrived about three o’clock in afternoon looking like a model straight from the pages of Modern Woman magazine. She wore a skullcap hat with colorful pheasant tail feathers falling from the left side of the hat. Her simple black wool coat complimented such a wild headdress. When she removed her coat, she wore a form-fitting red wool dress that accentuated her curves. Her perfect oval-shaped face lit up with a shade of lipstick which matched her dress, while her long blond hair fell down to her shoulders in a soft pageboy.

Josie opened the front door. “Donna! Happy Thanksgiving! Come in!”

“Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.” She stamped the snow off of her boots before coming through the door.

“Come on in! Wow, look at you Miss Debutante! How did you grow up so much since September?”

“Oh, this old thing?” Donna playfully brushed off the comment. “Come here, you!” She hugged Josie. “Oh I missed you so much!”

Donna kicked off her boots and slipped her feet into tall three inch heels she carried in a brown paper bag. The shoes gave her already shapely legs a slim silhouette.

At that moment, Peter entered the room. “Well, looked what the cat drug in! Did you shoot the peasant yourself?” He laughed and gave Donna a big hug. “We sure miss you around here, Donna. How’s that new apartment?”

“The place is working out well, Peter.” Donna smiled. “Thanks again for all your help. I couldn’t endure moving without you and your folks.”

“And Danny.”

“Right.” Donna blushed. “And Danny.”

“Say, what’s he got to say these days now that he’s a drafted veteran?”


“He’s still really peeved he didn’t score a higher lottery number. He whined about the drill sergeant getting on his case and the horrible slop they serve for food. He says the good news is he doesn’t need to leave the lower forty-eight states, plus he only needs to serve twelve months. So, I guess things are as good as they can be.”

“I sure miss having him around. Danny’s a great guy.” Peter shook his head.

“Yeah.” Donna Jean didn’t say anything more about Danny.




Love Keeps Me Going

I don’t often like to talk about my caretaking responsibilities for Ken, but a person told me yesterday I should write about these things because there are so many people out there who find themselves in the same position.

Most of the time I go from day to day without thinking about all the things I need to do for him that I didn’t have to do a year ago. I find this fact hard to swallow because I realize he will continue to fail until I can’t be the person who cares for him any longer.

Death of a loved one is difficult to accept in any situation, but I think watching the degenerative progression of someone you love is worse. It’s like I lose him a bit each day. Because of this one fact, the disease has changed the dynamic in our marriage. I have to coach him to remember things. Sometimes I have to coach him on how to move his body in order to sit straight, or to get up after a fall.

Ken always loved doing little things for me–like buying a corsage for me the first time he heard me sing a solo. Like buying me a dress I loved but didn’t need and running around with it in the trunk of his car until he could give it to me on my birthday. He bothered to know me well enough to ALWAYS give me something that was just right. Whether it be a hug, a smile, or a little remembrance. I miss his thoughtfulness. I miss my husband.

I know as time goes on everyone will experience caretaking on some level–either as the recipient or the one giving the care. Not being independent enough to do simple things like cutting your own meat at dinner, or putting on your own shoes everyday is humiliating. Falling and having to call 911 for help to get up is frustrating, but necessary. I can’t imagine how he truly feels because he never complains.

If Ken were a different person, I don’t think I could do all that is required. But he is the sweetest most loving man I’ve ever met. I loved him when we married almost twenty years ago, and through the years that love has grown exponentially. It’s that love that keeps me steady. I’m no hero. I’m no saint. I just love the man I married. That’s enough.


Here’s the next installment to APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – Book 2

Chapter 6

Paris, France — June 1939—Emma traveled from Germany to Paris several times since she graduated from secondary school. She loved the city with its beautiful walkways and parks, museums, and art galleries. She loved to linger in the outdoor cafes while enjoying a conversation with a Parisian. She spoke fluent French and even acquired a Parisian accent. Emma loved Paris because French people worked to live instead of living to work like typical Germans. Life in the city of lights went on at an easy pace. The French found joy in simple things like good wine, beautifully presented food, fresh-baked baguettes and croissants. Every meal turned out to be a special event, even if the meal only consisted of bread and cheese.

When Uncle Klaus requested Emma to accompany Marta to Paris for the summer, she looked forward to spending time with her favorite cousin. Emma recognized Marta possessed the same spark she held for art, history, and culture. Emma looked forward to witnessing Marta’s first impressions of the beautiful city. Expressing a love for culture proved to be something a German woman never spoke about, especially now with the Nazis in power. Women in their eyes could do only one thing–to serve their husbands, even when they showed great intelligence and achieved high grades in school. In France, Emma escaped the ugly whispers of others because she didn’t marry. Rumors circled Emma preferred women to men.

Emma booked a room in a small hotel in Montparnasse, the highest point in Paris. The hotel didn’t offer luxury, but the immaculate rooms provided safety for women traveling without men. The rickety elevator chugged and snorted on the way up as Marta rode with her heavy trunk to the fifth floor. The clanks and clunks of the elevator unnerved Marta so she rode with her eyes shut.

When Emma opened the door to their home for the summer, Marta’s mouth dropped. The sitting room was painted a soft peach with stencils of spring bouquets dancing on the walls. In the adjoining bedroom was the same shade of peach and white lace duvets covered the two beds. A small table with a stained-glass lamp shade sat between the beds. A desk painted blue sat in front of a large window with lace curtains.

Emma stayed at this hotel on another trip, and she requested this room because she wanted to relive the tranquility of looking out over the city every evening, even though much of the scene included views of roofs and chimneys.

Hunger set in for both Emma and Marta after the long train trip, so they agreed to unpack after lunch. Once again they road the rickety gilded birdcage elevator down to the lobby. They traveled through the revolving glass door to step onto the sidewalk. “Do you sense the pulse, Marta?” Emma asked.


“The pulse. The soul of the city. The easiness of this place.”

“Give me time, my dear cousin. My eyes are overwhelmed with so many beautiful sights.” Marta laughed.

Emma smiled at the exuberance of her cousin. “This way. We will go to my favorite sidewalk cafe where we will enjoy a light lunch.” Emma grabbed Marta’s hand and pointed her to a group of colorful table umbrellas in the next city block.

As they strolled down the streets filled with flowers and bright colors, Marta thought up until now she lived her life in black and white. Here life and rich color cried out from every shop window. People dressed in bright summer clothing and wore warm smiles as they strolled down the avenue. The city kept Marta’s eyes stimulated. Her ears listened to the musical French language and let it wash over her like sweet honey.  The words gracefully flowed into one another unlike the guttural nature of her German tongue.

As they neared the cafe, a handsome young artist sat at the corner painting a nearby landscape. Above a young woman feed her little pet canary in a second floor window, while the bird entertained the neighborhood with its lovely song. If Marta didn’t experience the colorful sights herself, she would believe she lived in a child’s fairy tale.

Marta said. “Will the whole summer be like this?”

“Of course. We will enjoy everyday! This is only the beginning, my sweet cousin.”

Marta nodded. “How will I ever return to Germany after living in Paris? I think I am destined to live here forever.”

Emma laughed at her cousin because she remembered feeling the exact same way on her first trip to the city.

They sat down on padded floral seat on metal chairs under a bright umbrella. The waiter came as soon as they got situated. “And what do you ladies desire today?”

Emma looked at him and said, “We’ll both have baguettes and brie.”

“Very good mademoiselle.”

After the waiter disappeared into the building, Marta spoke. “Where shall we go first?”

Emma studied Marta’s delicate fawn-like face. “Tonight I thought we would take a taxi into the heart of the city and view the Eiffel Tower lighted against the dark sky.”

“That sounds lovely. And tomorrow?”

“Each day will unfold, darling. We will not plan and rush. But if you would be more comfortable with a strict itinerary, we can sit down and plan one for the days ahead.” Emma teased.

Marta giggled, “Stop. Please do not make me feel like a child.”

Emma laughed.  “I am sorry, Cheri, but I want you to learn the whole world does not want to be German, even though the Nazis seem to prefer everyone to be the same. People are quite different in every country. Here you can fill your soul with culture and astonishing beauty, Marta. No place is like Paris.”

Marta nodded.

Emma placed her hand over her cousin’s fine-bonded fingers. “The summer will whisk by, Marta because good times always seem to disappear faster than the day to day activities. But we will cherish each day like it is our last together.”

They lingered in silence and sipped strong coffee as the sun dipped toward down to the horizon and the sky changed into rich shades of pink, blue, and purple. Both girls stayed silent knowing the summer would be magical.

Chapter 7

Berlin, Germany – June 1939 — Heidi Schiller stayed home over the summer helping her mother with the younger children and never-ending housework. She loved her mother and enjoyed their time together, but Heidi grew bored and restless.

“Heidi, you cannot stay home forever.” Mrs. Schiller told her. “With no serious suitors, you must make a life for yourself.”

“Yes, Mutter.”

“You should sit for the entrance exam for the university and become a teacher. You are such a smart girl.”

“Mother, I really do not want to teach. I want to be a dancer.”

“Dancing-all the time, dancing!” Her mother threw up her arms. “Yes, you are a beautiful dancer, but the world does not need a dancer in these times.”

Heidi hung her head to hide her tears. “I think the world would be better with more music and dancing.”

Her mother raised Heidi’s chin and met her eyes. “I sang like a canary at your age, but am I starring in operas?”

“No Mutter.” Heidi’s eyes dropped to her feet.

“Life presents many disappointments, my dear girl. As German women we are limited to a few choices, especially when someone does not want to marry after finishing secondary school.”

Heidi protested. “Mutter, the only boys who come around are brainwashed by the Youth Movement. I do not think like them, and I would never marry anyone who is so rigid.”

“I understand.” Her mother nodded.

Marta continued. “The Nazis closed my church and now the school. They smashed shopkeeper’s windows and beat defenseless men in the streets. How can Vater belong to such a violent group? I do not want to live here any longer, Mutter, but I am trapped.”

“Heidi,” Her mother said in a low voice. “You must be careful what you say. The wrong person might be listening.”

Heidi confessed in a whisper. “You are right. I forgot myself. But do you think neighbors should turn on neighbors?”

Her mother put her hand on her daughter’s hand. “Liebling, do not despair. We will find an answer for you.” Her mother handed her an ad for a nanny position in Poland. “What do you think about this?”

“A nanny?” Heidi said with surprise. “I never considered such a position.”

“My cousin who lives in Warsaw, and she wrote many wealthy people are looking for good nannies.” Her mother continued. “As much as I want you to be near me, Liebling, I too want you to live away from Germany right now.”

Heidi looked at her mother with bright eyes. “This is a good plan, Mutter. Vater asked me about my future plans yesterday. I cannot image him approving of me leaving Germany?”

“You leave your Vater to me.” Her mother said. “By the time I am done with him, he will be convinced he thought to send you to Poland.”


A Changing Identity

changing identityThis morning I’m supposed to be attending a caregiver workshop. The focus of this three-week class is called “relationships.” Last week I didn’t go because Ken took a fall right before it was time to leave. He knocked over an end table and everything on it – including a lamp, spilled coffee all over the wall, and bruised himself. All of this because he just tried to get up from the sofa to go to the bathroom.

I saw it happen. His knees buckled, he lost his balance, and then he toppled over. This fall we didn’t laugh about. This time we screamed. I was really scared he had hurt himself. But his guardian angel must have caught him because other than being humiliated because he caused another mess, he was fine.

I grumbled while I cleaned up the catastrophe, then I felt ashamed of myself. He had only been trying to walk for godsakes!  And here I was cranking about having to wash a little spilled coffee off the wall. What kind of person am I?

Even after I cleaned up the mess, I still had time to get to the caregiver meeting, but I couldn’t THINK of the idea. Sitting in a room with a dozen  people learning about changing relationships was not what I needed at the time. So I sat in a chair all day and pouted.

But what did I need?

I’ll tell you. I need this whole thing to STOP. I want my sweet, loving husband back. I want the man who used to surprise me with tender little gifts from time to time–just because he was thinking about me. I want the man who always put me first, not matter what. I want the man who supported me in everything I wanted to do. I want the man who used to travel with me, exploring the world together. I want the man who ran to the flower shop to buy me a corsage when he heard me sing a solo in church for the first time.

What I don’t want is to face the fact I am watching this man fade away a little more each day. I want to shout: “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Today is the second class of this workshop, but during the week a good friend called and invited me to go shopping with her. The last time we were together, we had a blast. Our friendship goes back over 20 years. We have daughters the same age; we went to college at the same time; we got divorced within a year of each other; and we helped each other recover from all the bumps and bruises life has to dish out. Having time with Jackie is special because she has a job which requires her to travel a good part of the year, and she’s not around all of the time. Needless to say, I decided to spend my morning with her instead of attending the class.

But is a good time with a valued friend the reason I blew off this class for the second time?

Well, it’s part of it. I get strength and positive energy from my friends. I love laughing with them and talking with them. So yes, it is part of the reason. The other part of the story, though, is I know in my head that I am a dyed-in-the-wool caretaker because of how I spend my days. But my heart can’t face it. I haven’t come to a place where I want to accept my husband is growing weaker and fading away–even though I see it with my eyes everyday. To publicly admit I am now a caretaker for t he man I love is too hard. I’m not ready. I’m too little! I want to suck  my thumb and cuddle in a corner with my security blanket.

I tell myself there will be another class at another time. I will sign up, but God only knows if I will attend. I tell myself maybe I’ll be ready by then, Maybe I’ll be ready to accept this new status in my relationship with Ken. Right now attending such a class signals devastating defeat and loss. MS has crippled Ken, but it also has morphed me from a loving wife to a loving caretaker. Attending this class solidifies it, and I’m not ready to face it.