by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from “The San Antonio Express-News,” Jan. 6, 2018.
Becoming a caregiver for a loved one changes your relationship and your life. In the beginning, you are filled with compassion, concern and determination to do everything you can to help. You even welcome the opportunity to show just how much you love that person. If it is a spouse or parent who is going blind, you dedicate yourself to being their eyes. You take over the driving, the cooking, the paying of bills, and you’re happy to do these things, because you love them.
Gradually, you take on more of the household responsibilities. Your loved one, in turn, becomes frustrated, angry and feels helpless. Perhaps they settle into idleness and depression and don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. Or perhaps they become bossy and demand that you do everything for them — take them shopping, to medical appointments, read their mail, and look up information for them. Their demands become intrusions on your time. You’re afraid to leave them alone. You stop going places you used to go. No more volunteering at church. No more afternoons playing bridge, golf or going bowling. You are handcuffed to their needs.
To make it easier for them, and you, you take charge. You make more of their decisions for them. You decide what they should wear, when and where they go out, even what they eat. You become their boss.
What in the beginning was an eager, loving commitment has now become a strained relationship, a 24-hour obligation sapping your energy and eroding your good humor. Soon you find resentment and regret creeping into your consciousness. You sense the person you knew is not the person your loved one has become. You’re angry and upset that they have contracted this disease and at the doctors for not being able to cure it. What’s more, you feel guilty over your resentment. The relationship has become dangerously negative.
I know of more than one case where loss of vision in a spouse has resulted in divorce, while with others, the relationship has become so tense and unpleasant, separation might be a happier outcome.
So what can you do to preserve a loving relationship when one of your parents or your spouse experiences a serious disability such as going blind? First, recognize that as a caregiver you can help them most by not trying to do everything for them. You can encourage them to do things for themselves, to be as independent as possible.
With the help of a professional orientation and mobility specialist, they can learn to get around outdoors on their own, how to safely do things such as cook and clean, read their own mail, take their medicine on time, etc. A visually impaired spouse or parent can be more independent than you realize. Vision rehabilitation programs, specialized adaptive aids and appliances and independent skills training are offered by both state agencies and Lighthouses for the Blind.
It is true that vision loss can be devastatingly traumatic to a person’s ability to be independent and to participate in ordinary activities, but it is also true that “there is, for sure, life after loss of sight.”
And that’s how I see it.