Caregiving for his wife gave him ‘the greatest reward’

It’s true, the life of a caregiver can be demanding, difficult and daunting. I spent seven years of my life in that role, keeping an eye on my wife’s every move. Just about every night, Carol and I awoke from our slumber at least five times to make trips to the bathroom. We spent endless nights in hospitals and long days in doctor’s offices.

If given the chance to do it all over again, I would. Those years of being a caregiver constitute the best seven of my life. I learned a ton about myself and my family, became a more fulfilled man, and had the incredible chance to fall in love with my wife all over again.

While I could easily list 20 wonderful things about serving in a caregiving role, here are five very important and unexpected rewards:

1. A better relationship.

When I started being a caregiver, time slowed down. Because the role can be so demanding, you must focus on the person. In the process, you learn what makes them tick – maybe things you hadn’t noticed before. Putting these nuggets of wisdom to use can make that person so happy, which in turn makes you feel good. For Carol, it was pancakes. When she needed a boost, a single pancake could do the trick. Every once in a while, she’d be down in the dumps. The minute I saw this, we were on the way to our local breakfast joint. Carol’s smile would make my day.

2. Precious moments.

You get to be a part of some very special moments. Before my wife’s strokes, we’d spend some time together but did our own thing most of the time. After Carol got sick, I spent 90 percent of my time with her, and I got to be a part of so many meaningful moments.

Her father had come to live with us for a few years during her illness. He was around 90 at the time. Every night the Pittsburgh Pirates played on TV, they stood, held hands and sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” You could just feel the love and joy between them. I’ll never forget those moments.

3. Discovering humility.

Before my wife became ill, I was a decent man and generally thoughtful of others, but my world had veered towards self-centeredness. I was set in my ways and had been accustomed to the order in my world.

At first, out of necessity, I began taking care of her needs. Soon thereafter, I started feeling good when I did things to help her.  Then something tremendous occurred, I began to derive sustained joy when making her life better. By the time she passed away, I’d committed my life to completely serving her and felt total fulfillment. I’d become entirely selfless. There may not be a better feeling in the world.

4. A deeper relationship.

As I gave myself over to her, my wife started to really feel the love. And in turn, she began to outwardly show her love and appreciation. A day wouldn’t go by when she would tell me that “You’re too good to me,” or “Thanks for all that you do for me.” I never sought these assurances, but when she’d offer them, it would light up my day. It was then I realized that we were falling in love all over again.

5. A stronger family.

Only one of my siblings and one of our three sons lived in Pittsburgh when my wife got sick. At first, I felt sort of alone in dealing with her health crisis, but that didn’t last very long. The one son who lived the closest moved in for a year. My other two kids came in regularly and showered their mother with love. My siblings came all the time and called when they couldn’t.

I’ve lived my life abiding by the philosophy that what happens to you isn’t as important as how you respond to it. My entire family responded with love, concern, help and support. Each time, their acts and deeds made Carol and I feel wonderful. I took great pride in seeing my family come together.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always easy. Yet, at the end of each day of caregiving, I always received a small gift – a sense of fulfillment. And now, when I look back at those seven years, I am reminded that my life had purpose, which is the greatest reward of them all.

George Shannon, who wrote this article, and his son, Chad Shannon, co-authored a book (“The Best Seven Years of My Life: The Story of an Unlikely Caregiver”) about George’s experience as caregiver for his wife.