Till Death do us Part

By Florence Mwaura, Psychological Counselor


Weddings are exciting! Often times, I find myself reciting the traditional wedding vows, for better for worse until death do us apart, as the wedding couple exchange this same vows (I am sure I am not the only one). For both the husband and the wife, this ceremony usually is a transition of their lives, from living individually as separate people to living together as one unit. Years ago, I got to witness my best friend get married, it was an exciting phase in her life and as her friend, I had also vowed to be there in good and bad times of her life.

Fast forward to a year ago, my best friend’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was really stressful to see an energetic and joyous woman suddenly dull and weak. I considered her as my mother as she had raised me like her own daughter. I knew that this was harder on my best friend than it was on me, but pain is pain we each feel it differently.  With everything that was going on, my best friend could not bear being away from her mother. She, therefore, decided to take her mom in and quit her job as a nurse, so that she could keep a close eye on her mom. They say blood is thicker than water, but the bond between married couples I think is a force to be reckoned with. This, however, was foreign to my best friend. Her dedication and energy were focused on her mother that she forgot her responsibility as a wife. The sad reality was that, even with a supportive husband, her little world was slowly crumbling down on her feet.

She looked so lost and tired that my heart broke with every visit I made to her house. Sometimes I found myself crying when I got home because I thought I had lost my friend for good. The irony in all this is that, I am a counsellor, I help people every day but I couldn’t figure out how to help my own best friend.  This was until I was obliged to host a group therapy at work, that I got an opportunity to involve my best friend. At first, it was hard to get her out of the house. She had become detached to the normal life that socializing was a new subject to her. However, as time went by, I could see a smile here and there, then came the tight hugs and finally the confessions. This was her refuge point as she had found a way to let out her emotions and thoughts. What made her stronger was the fact that everyone in that group had a story to tell, and every story made their bond grow even stronger. Only then did she realize that she was not alone in the rough journey.

Here is what I learned being by her side through this caregiving journey;

  1. It takes team-work when giving care to an older relative.

A family is a complete unit. Just like the body functions as one so does the family. When my mom’s friend got sick, we (her husband and I ) were also involved in taking care of her mother. We would accompany her to the hospital, take turns in feeding the mom and even help with the house chores. Great teamwork ensures efficiency in running of home errands and caregiving responsibilities which also spares a little time for personal time. Involving others makes it so much easier in this journey. Having helping hands never hurt anybody.

  • Build a network of support.

What is it they say? Two hands are better than one, and a few more build a strong system? Nothing is new under the sun and getting people going through your same experience wouldn’t be surprising. Join a caregiver support group if you have to (online if there isn’t one in your area). You’ll get advice and encouragement from people in your situation, and you’ll see that what you’re experiencing is normal. My best friend broke out of her shell because she discovered that she was not the only one going through hard times during the group therapy.

  • Don’t wallow in self-pity.

No problem has ever been solved by feeling sorry for yourself or your situation. The old saying rings true: happiness comes from looking at the glass half full, rather than half empty. However, this is easy to say, but much harder to put into practice. It takes a conscious effort to think about what’s running through your head and turn that negative voice into a positive one (Introspection). Constant negativity can sap the energy and lightheartedness out of any relationship. Mindfulness exercises, self-help books and therapy can help you practise gratitude and learn to skew your thoughts in a positive way rather than negative. What has worked for my parents is the spiritual practice they hold so dear to their lives.

  • Trust over Rage.

Assumptions are the road to muddy pitfalls. Couples should be able to communicate openly, in fact, married couples should be able to talk about everything. Trust each other. Allow your spouse to talk about what is in their mind without subjecting any judgement. This way, you are able to be at a level ground where correction and opinions stand to be accepted rather than debated. My best friends husband was supportive through the journey, he took time to pause before reacting because he knew he had a vow to keep; For better for worse.

  • Have realistic expectations.

 Don’t spread yourselves too thin trying to be the perfect spouse and caregiver. Sometimes one role will require more of you, sometimes another. Accept that a good effort is enough. Self- appreciation goes a long way to helping boost one’s confidence. Do what you love and love yourself even harder! Often times, I could bring ice-cream to my friend’s house and we would eat and binge-watch because hey, we both deserved it.

  •  Bend but don’t break.

Life is mysterious as it is. Some days are rainy, other days have rainbows and others are shiny. This is life, and it is okay to feel lost. As my mom says, tough times mould you, just like a pencil has to be sharpened to produce quality writing, so does a person get shaped through experience. Each opportunity makes one grow, a little faint sometimes but even stronger at the end. If all hell breaks loose in your marriage then do not shy from going to therapy. Remember, all aspects of healing begin from inside an individual and is spread to the rest of the surrounding.

It has been a few months since the group therapy and to be honest, I have never seen my bestie this strong. She is happy, heavily pregnant and thankful. Her mom recently stopped chemo as she has a few months to live (Hurts but, if its meant to be, It will be). This moment has brought us closer than we have ever been and during these last few days mom has to live, we are holding to the hope that she gets to meet and name her grandchild. Life is life, and we live regardless. (Aluta Continua.)

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