Peter from Tennessee

Caring for a disabled wife for three decades has taught me a lot about America's health care system, life, love, and faith. It’s been quite a journey: 78 operations. Both of her legs amputated, treatment by 60+ doctors in 12 hospitals, $9 million in medical bills—and it's ongoing.

We caregivers are, by definition, "high-functioning multi-taskers,” and it’s often difficult for others to know how to help us. We seem to move at breakneck speeds, and those who aren’t caregivers just can’t seem to keep up.

I’ve been asked many times, “How does one help you and other caregivers?”

For me, I’ve discovered that helping a caregiver usually starts with a friend or family member saying quietly, “I see YOU—and I see the magnitude of what YOU are carrying, and I hurt for you.” That’s usually when the tears fill my eyes, and the eyes of my fellow caregivers. We can so easily lose our identity in this journey. When someone sees us as an individual, it’s like a drink of cool water on a hot and dusty day. By recognizing caregivers in forums such as this, AARP is doing something extraordinary, and as a caregiver, I am grateful for their efforts.

I’m also often asked, “What have you learned the most as a caregiver for so long—through such a brutal journey?”

I’ve learned that I serve my wife best, when I am in a healthy place—physically, emotionally, professionally, and fiscally. I am powerless to alleviate her pain or her disabilities, but I’ve learned the greatest gift I can give to her is a husband who is healthy, calmer, and yes, even joyful —all while often staring at grim realities. This is my message to my fellow caregivers. This is my daily message to myself.

It’s not an easy thing to put yourself between a vulnerable loved one and disaster, yet we caregivers do it every day. I’m thankful that here in this little corner of the internet on AARP’s site, we can push back against the isolation we often feel as caregivers. Here in this forum, we say to each other: “I see YOU, and I see the magnitude of what you carry on this lonely road —but YOU are not alone.”

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