As a child we lived with my grandparents in a red brick apartment complex in Queens, NY. I remember the pleasure of sitting on my Papa’s lap as he imbued me with love, kindness and wisdom. My grandfather Louis Blumenstock was a well-known philanthropist who founded the Hyam Salomon Home for the Aged.
Later in life, I wrote to the late Jacob Rader Marcus, a famous scholar of Jewish history and a Reform rabbi, asking about my feeling that my grandfather’s presence was inside of me. He explained the concept of zechut avot (for the merit of the ancestors). Marcus said I was right in feeling my grandfather’s influence – he is in my genes; his Jewish values of caring for others are a part of me.
Two years ago my wife developed breast cancer.
Burned into my memory is the moment the doctor told us the news. My first thought was, “What if I lose her?” I calmed the shudder because together we made the decision to act quickly, and her surgery was successful. As her husband, with very protective tendencies, I began an emotional, spiritual and physical odyssey of fear and worry. Becoming her caregiver was unlike anything I had ever experienced. With the frequency of breast cancer diagnoses, I knew I wasn’t alone. A cultural shift was taking place. More men are becoming caregivers.
As I spoke with other men who were in the same position, I noticed they stayed silent about their stress, fear and concerns. Women know how to seek support and speak their feelings. We men need to work on it. As a caregiver, here are some words of encouragement:
• You have an incredibly difficult and often unrecognized responsibility. Being a caregiver is a huge mitzvah. It is worthy of dignity and self-respect.
• It takes tremendous emotional stamina to help an ill family member or loved one.
• Your ability to be a successful caregiver depends on how you learn to care for yourself. Here are some tips:
• You don’t have to answer all the questions about the person who is ill. I actually rehearsed with my wife some responses that would get me out of the “answer routine” in a respectful way. Simply say, “Thanks for the concern and good feelings you send our way.”
• Caregiving can affect your mind, body and spirit. Take time out to relax and restore all of you. Listen to music, play a game or sport, pray and meditate.
• Don’t be embarrassed to get help. You have earned it. So many men say they would never go for counseling. Why not? Counseling can help assuage your worries and fears. Or at least not let them grow and dominate you.
• Laughing brings pleasure to the brain, releases stress and takes you away from thinking, thinking, thinking about the illness.
• Make a new friend, be with others in nature or play cards. Research says social interaction (in person – not online) helps eat away at the alienation that comes from caregiving.
• Learn how to be honest and speak from the heart with the person you are caring for. She is vulnerable and very able to hear your reality. It will deepen your relationship and improve communication.
• Choose who you spend time with. Minimize spending time with people who don’t bring you benefit, kindness or encouragement.
Caregiving is very difficult. You are doing your best to help someone who is fighting for her health. The stronger you are for her, the more effective your caregiving. Take care of yourself. It will make a big difference.
Jeffrey Winters is the author of two novels, travel and health articles, and film reviews. He is a professional marketing consultant. He founded and directed the Mount Shasta International Film Festival. He teaches martial arts and self-defense. Jeffrey and his wife, Danielle, moved to the Portland area in 2012. See more at: jeffreywinters.com.