During the twenty six long years when my great grandmother, Henriette Albertine Hensel Schumacher was confined to a wheelchair with debilitating arthritis, her husband, my great grandfather took care of her with the help of his children…especially my great aunts, Bertha and Elsa who gave up the hope of marriage and a family in their young years, for the love of their parents and with and understanding of their need. Because my great grandmother was only fifty years old when she was struck with this disease, her youngest daughters, Bertha and Elsa were only 11 and 8 years old. Those girls would barely remember a time when they were not caregivers for their mother, and later for their father too. The time went by so quickly, and suddenly they looked back and the time for having a family was long past for them.
I don’t think that most people, or at least most of those who have never been a caregiver, have any idea what a monumental job it is to care for someone. It takes a willingness to give up your own desires, hobbies, activities…basically your life, to help someone else who is not in a position to help themselves. And, it isn’t always the person who needs the care that is the most helped, but rather their spouse, who has been trying to handle it themselves, and trying to figure out what has happened to their strength, their ability to handle everything in their life, and how they could have come to a place where their only hope lies in the strength of their children, who still have the advantage of youth’s strength and energy. This was the place my great grandfather, Carl Schumacher found himself in, as the years passed and he came to the understanding that he would have to lean heavily on his two youngest daughters to keep things going.
I have to wonder if great grandpa felt a lot of guilt over what his daughters gave up in life to help him. He was such a loving, caring person, who had always been able to take care of all the needs of his family, and he just could not do this alone. He simply had no choice but to rely on them for help. He was getting older, and he was getting tired. I’m sure Bertha and Elsa would have had it no other way. These were their parents, and they loved them. Still, they never forgot the day that their dad said, “What would I do without you girls?” I know from my own experiences as a caregiver, that while you don’t need to have the patient constantly saying “thank you”, there is something to be said for hearing that your hard work has positively effected their lives. They were both rewarded in later years with wonderful husbands, and even thought it was for a short time they were blessed in that way too in the end.
In my years as a caregiver, I have had the opportunity a number of times to hear or be told that without my help, they couldn’t have stayed in their homes this long, and it does make you feel good about your work. Nevertheless, like my great aunts, I know I would do the work whether the praise came or not, because it truly is about making their lives better, and not about the praise I received. It’s all about the love I have for those I care for. I’m very proud of my great aunts, that they did what they needed to do to help their parents, and someday, I’ll have the chance to tell them that myself.