Building Relationships: For the Caregiver

When I spent time walking in the mountain forest outside our house, it was as if that connection with nature broadened my view to be able to include Andy’s illness into the whole tapestry of our life.

Relationships are designed for change.

As I write now, we have been successful in our approaches to relationship while living with disease. I enjoy clear and loving relationships with family and friends– but we are seventeen years in. This peaceful situation wasn’t the case in our early years with Parkinson’s.

I was accustomed to Andy being active socially and, in fact, he often carried the responsibility of conversation and initiating friendships while I took the more introverted role of supportive partner.

When Andy was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s, our lives were confused and we had no idea how to integrate illness into the world we’d built before illness. I had expectations, of family and certain friends, that were not met and disappointed me. I felt uncomfortably alone and sometimes envied people who appeared to be free from the losses we faced. My sadness in our reality and my disappointment in the actions or non actions of others led me to look more deeply into the bigger picture of our world.

When I spent time walking in the mountain forest outside our house, it was as if that connection with nature broadened my view to be able to include Andy’s illness into the whole tapestry of our life.

Walking on the narrow path of dirt and pine needles, with sunlight filtering through tall branches and no time limit for my walk, I saw all the different types of trees. They were gnarled, stooped, tall, full of pinecones, dying, full branches, skinny and wide trunks, some good for climbing, others good for shade, thick bark, fungus affected. I noticed some were shallow rooted and others were deeply rooted and all these made up the forest I loved so dearly.

The trees gave me courage to begin to tell my friends what I needed and to ask people for help. I finally took responsibility for my part in the relationship changes that came with Parkinson’s.

My life opened up in a way that was both more accepting of each friend’s ability to be or not to be in my life and also more discerning about sharing time and energy with people who are able to truly know me.

As Andy’s caregiver, relationships changed that probably would not have otherwise. But also my relationships grew within the changes and reflected the honesty and depth of the life I live.

The entrance of a disease precipitates a particular kind of shift that not everyone can take, and I’ve learned that’s okay.

It takes all of us to make a healthy forest.

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