Caregiving takes a toll on the caregiver, care recipient, and the relationship between the two. The relationship that is founded on love often becomes work to maintain. Respite is proven support that creates an enjoyable time for both the caregiver and care recipient by offering some time away for the caregiver that allows them to take a break and come back refreshed.
Respite means something different to each person. It might mean care for your loved one while you run to the grocery store, or it could mean care for your loved one while you take a long weekend with your friends, as caregivers often live in isolation. It is not one size fits all. It may even look different each time you use it. For some, it may be the first resource called upon, and others may only find it as a last resort.
For some, respite is used out of love; for love, that most certainly was the case for Walt and Aline.
Their Love Story
The two met on a beach in New Jersey in 1964. Something straight out of a romance novel, married a year after to begin their journey together. Their lives were full of love and adventure while living in places like Manhattan and Indianapolis for many years. After moving to Wisconsin to be close to their four grandchildren, Aline and Walt went back to New York City to visit friends and family. It was there that Walt realized something was not right. “Aline didn’t want to do anything; she was lethargic. It just wasn’t her.” When they arrived home, Walt scheduled an appointment with the doctor. In February of 2007, after an MRI, Aline was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment. It was not until two years later that there was a significant decline. In March of 2009, Aline was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The two spent the first 43 years of their relationship partnering in things they love, like travel and spending time with family. After the changes in Aline’s cognitive ability, both still had many moments of joy together. At the same time, Walt found himself taking on the role of managing his wife’s medications, cooking and serving meals, driving to endless medical appointments, cleaning their home, and doing all of their laundry.
The Need for Respite
The time had come where Walt needed a break. At the beginning of his respite journey, he used respite for 2 hours every Wednesday as he served on an editorial board for a local newspaper. “You just kind of ease into it,” according to Walt. For the two of them, the respite was best served small at first. Walt found comfort knowing Aline was well cared for while he was away for a short time. After some time had passed, an opportunity arose for Walt as a ski instructor that would require him to be away for much more extended periods; at this time, respite flowed into their lives in longer increments. It allowed Walt the time and comfort to continue to do things he enjoyed while knowing Aline was enjoying herself and doing meaningful activities with her respite provider.
“I have come home to the respite providers giving Aline a foot massage or picking and arranging flowers from the garden.” The respite was benefitting Aline and allowing her to stay stimulated and continued social engagement with others. Respite is often a story of love, a love for life, a love for ourselves, and allowing the love for each other to continue without blemishes that arise out of frustration or burnout.