Giving All

A reader writes:

At this stage of my life – 55 years old – I have come to see that the "giving tree" is me. My husband, an extremely high functioning paraplegic – an "uber-gimp" – suffered a massive stroke in October 2009. He is now a severely brain damaged paraplegic.  And now, for 1.5 years, I have been his caregiver.

I give of myself so much that I have lost my own life.

I work full-time (as you can see from my email address, I am a Federal employee working for the U.S. Navy). And yet, my REAL full time job is that of my husband's caregiver. I don't live MY life; I live HIS. His care comes before mine, always. Dressing him, changing him (he is bowel incontinent), ensuring his meals are given, ensuring his "helper" arrives on time and cares for him properly. Not an hour goes by while at work (like now), that I do not call either him or his "helper" to ensure everything is running smoothly. I have no annual leave accumulated, as I use it up for HIS needs, never my own. Even my sick leave is used on my husband's needs, leaving zero in case I should get ill.

Give, give, give. My "leaves" are almost gone from my branches, and even some of my "branches" are beginning to be snapped off and given to my husband's needs. And because I receive nothing in return – no expressions of love from him, no affection, little or no conversation from him on how my day went or how I am doing – I will soon be a stump without anyone to sit on it. Just a lonely dry stump.

The point of The Giving Tree is most often seen from the receiver's end. But the fact is, we caregivers never fail to see that WE are the "giving trees" – complete with the extreme loneliness of knowing that our "friends" and extended "family" have also abandoned us, so that more "leaves" fall off from the sheer loneliness of it all.

This isn't something I talk about often; it seems so weak to do so. And it is what I vowed to do in our Catholic Nuptial Mass, after all – to care for him "in sickness and in health." But seeing the topic of that painful book has come up on your blog – which I read, and enjoy, daily – I thought I'd mention it.

Another writes:

I may be the Tree in Shel Silverstein's book. I am not sure yet. 

Eight months ago my three-year old daughter got a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum.  We started the process of getting her evaluated when a pediatrician friend pulled me aside and told me that the ability to read on a 3rd birthday might be a bad thing.  When we began researching autism we realized that our child had sensory issues and language processing problems despite her ability to read and being very verbal. We have over 30 books on autism in our house and Ms. Gilman's book will soon be joining it.  The last eight months have been a clusterfuck of doctors, educational evaluations, psychologists, occupational therapists and language specialists, much of it not covered by our insurance.  

My child's therapy over the next few years will eat into and possibly destroy our savings. It may last a few years or it may last her lifetime.  We have no way of knowing.   Vacations we had planned will be put off indefinitely due to lack of funds or the destination would not work for a child with sensory issues.  It may effect my abilility to retire when I want. 

Despite her challenges,  my child is very smart and I hope she will do well in school, go to college and become an independant person with relationships and can contribute to society.  In the back of my mind, I am starting to put a contingency plan in place in case she can never live an independant life.  

Your commenters who view the relationship between parent and child as abusive may be missing the point.  The child in the story never demands anything of the tree.   The child has a challenge and the tree sees a way to help and does.   The tree makes all the choices and is truly happy when it helps the child reach his potential and live a happy life.  For the tree, a child with no chance at happiness may be an unthinkable alternative, worse than ending up as a stump. 

Not all parents are required to give up everything.  I really hope my wife and I will be required to give up everything either, but if I have to sell my house, never see Europe, and work until I die to give my child a genuine chance to reach her full potential, I will do it without blinking and without any bitter feelings toward my child. If she gets that chance it will be worth it.  I couldn't even imagine feeling any other way.