Following on from my first post, and the responses to it, the prickly subject of relationships is in my thoughts. I’m not going to gush about mine and seem all sanctimonious because that would give you a false image. Let me give you two examples of relationships I’ve encountered or heard about.
- A bloke I know, let’s call him W, looked after his wife, who had MS, until her untimely death a few years ago. The actions of a man deeply in love with his wife and devoted to her throughout. W now lives with his daughter trying to be as good a parent as he can, and does an incredible amount of good work for a local MS charity.
- Another man I’ve heard of, who I’ll call J, cared for his wife, who has MS, for 10 years or so. I know little more about him, save to say that it all got too much for him and he left his wife. He took their children and left to be with another woman who he’d met on the internet. J arranged for his wife to be accepted into a care home where she remained until quite recently. She now lives in her own home with carers helping her.
At first glance, you can judge each of these two people. W is a noble man, the kind of man who gets lauded as a role model, the man that makes women turn to their partners and say “why can’t you be more like him?”. On the other hand, J is the worst kind of rat bastard who deserves ten kinds of pestilence to fall upon him. Easy, right? I disagree.
W is a good man, BUT… the man I see has been deeply affected by what’s happened to him. He looks tired and stressed whenever I see him yet he maintains that he’s happy. He’s happy with his very long distance relationship, he’s happy with his daughter now at college, he’s happy. I don’t know W very well at all so he may well be as happy as he says he is. But, to my eye, he looks like a man who’s seen and experienced too much and is trying to cope with it all. Only he and those close to him can say with any certainty just how well he is coping. To me, J started out with good intentions – you’re not a carer for 10 years if you’re an innate bastard. He reached a point where he couldn’t take any more. Could he have made his exit differently? Maybe. Who knows.
I’ve met or heard of many people who fit into both of these categories, one who stays with MS or one that runs away from MS. Every person has a breaking point. J reached his and nobody but him knows what it was that took him there. I think that J saw himself as living with MS first and with his wife second, and that he left MS since MS wouldn’t leave his marriage. Perhaps W didn’t reach his because destiny, nature, call it what you will, got there first. Maybe his breaking point is occurring now and has been since his wife died. All I know is that I think of both of these people in connection to my own relationships – both with my wife and with MS. I’ve not reached my breaking point but living with MS is bloody hard. As a carer it’s easy to find yourself increasingly living with the disease rather than living with your partner. Did J leave his wife too early? Should he not have recognised his breaking point? Was he being selfish? Why should he not have thought of himself and his own life? Did W stay too long? Is he aware of the effect that his experiences have had on him and his life and family? Would he have been happier leaving and letting someone else deal with his wife’s MS?
A carer’s feelings and suffering are generally considered as secondary to those of the person they care for. Illnesses, diseases and disabilities have names and recognised symptoms. A carer’s suffering remains unrecognised yet I see it as neither easier nor worse than that of the person cared for. It is equal but very different. I find that I can’t judge either of the men I’ve written about here because I don’t know if or when I’ll reach a breaking point. And I don’t know that I want to either.