Let me begin by telling you that I am not feeling angry at the moment.  This is not a chance for me to vent about my frustrations.  What I want to do is say what is obvious to those of us in Caregiving roles — as well as those receiving the care.  We get angry!

When we get angry we have to figure out what to do with those angry feelings.  While I would like it to be so, I am not always calm and rational and thoughtful and caring and sweet and loving — I had better stop before I lose my supper.  Mary Ann and I are not always sweet to each other.  Gratefully, neither of us expresses our anger physically.   We don’t call each other nasty names.   We do get angry. 

We have to figure out what to do with the anger so that it does not alienate us from one another or eat holes in our insides.  We don’t happen to be sweet talkers.  I appreciate those for whom sweet words come easily — when those words are genuine.  We are not cutesy-pie or sweet-cheeks or honey bunny sort of folks.  We didn’t use baby talk with our children — maybe a little with our Grandchildren, but that’s different!  We don’t use sweet talk with one another. 

Actually, I like that we say what we want to say to each other with words that sound genuine.  There is a trust that emerges that we are being straight with each other.  We try to be thoughtful in what we say without using words that sound like empty flattery.  We can both be pretty grumpy.  That is just the way we really are, sometimes grumpy, sometimes loving and kind and happy and content. 

When anger comes there are some elements of dealing with that anger that are unique to a caregiving and receiving relationship.  It just isn’t fair to express anger at someone who is sick, who has been battling Parkinson’s Disease for twenty-two years, who has had stolen from her every ability that brought her creative satisfaction, someone who depends on you for almost everything.   But where then can it go?  How can it be expressed.

Then, how can Mary Ann express her anger at me when moments later she has to depend on me to get her a sip of water or more importantly a dish of ice cream?  How can she risk alienating the one person who is there for her pretty much twenty-four hours a day?  Where then can the anger go, how can it be expressed.

If you haven’t discovered this for yourself, let me tell you something important about long and committed relationships.  They contain within them the capacity to be angry with one another, be grumpy, express it, and not threaten the relationship.   We trust each other enough to admit and express our anger. 

There are, of course, some rules.  No hitting!!! No name calling.  No damage to the furniture, doors or walls.  There may be an enthusiastic shutting of a door.  There may even be some yelling.  My children and those I taught in Confirmation Classes can testify that this little body can produce sounds audible from quite a distance, startling when heard at close range.   

There is an element in the expression of anger in a relationship that is not always appreciated.  Expressing anger appropriately in a relationship can strengthen it.  The operative word is “appropriately.”  Admitting that you are angry about something creates a vulnerability.  I can remember in our early years of marriage, Mary Ann once  saying to me, “I just wish you would get angry with me.”  By the way, she has lived to regret ever saying that. 

In her own way, she was asking me to be honest with her and reveal myself more openly, be more fully present with her.  She was asking me to trust her with my anger, trust her with what lay in my insides. 

Here is where that insight relates to our relationship as Caregiver/Receiver.  Were I to refuse to let her see any of my anger, it would signal to her that I thought her to be too sick, to debilitated to handle an honest relationship.  If I were to be sweet and nice and never grumpy with her, she would suspect that I had somehow lost respect for her strength. 

If Mary Ann were to become docile and compliant, never grumpy, always appreciating whatever I said or did, eating leftovers without complaint, never becoming impatient with me, it would signal to me the loss of someone who has been a force to be reckoned with, a strong presence, the person I have loved for all these years. 

We are not just Caregiver and Carereceiver, we are husband and wife!

What helps in managing the anger that comes is reflecting on it long enough (after the first reactive moments) to determine what it is that is the actual cause of the anger.  More often than not, what we are actually angry at is the insidious nature of Parkinson’s.  The ups and downs, the unpredictability, the inability to make plans and keep them, the relentless direction of this rollercoaster ride, combine to create frustrations that bubble up when some evidence of Parkinson’s presence pops up (sometimes as suddenly as Jack does when the little door of the box opens). 

I seem to have little ability to change this pattern, and I am frustrated by that inability.  When Mary Ann falls, which can be multiple times in a day, I get angry and grumpy about whatever it is that put her in the position of falling.  When I reflect on those reactive feelings, it becomes apparent to me what is actually happening.  I am scared.  We have been to the emergency room with blood that refuses to coagulate.  I know that head injuries are what most often finally take folks with Parkinson’s.  I am upset that I didn’t anticipate it and figure out how to prevent it.  I am frustrated that the very same medications that keep her able to function throw her into dyskinetic movements that compromise her balance, that the disease process combined with side effects of meds can cause her blood pressure to lower resulting in fainting.  I am angry that she doesn’t think about all that and avoid situations that make falling likely.  I am angry that the disease has slowed the thinking process making that kind of rational behavior difficult to maintain.  I am angry that she has always had a stubborn streak that, while it is keeping her alive, it is at the same time driving me crazy.   And then she wonders why I am angry at her when she falls since she isn’t the one who chose the Parkinson’s and brought all the challenges into our lives.  She isn’t doing it on purpose.

What about anger?  Well, admit it, name it, express it in ways that hurt no one, then think about it.  Use the energy it produces to find ways to deal with the problems that trigger it.  Don’t waste the anger.  Use it constructively.   Don’t let the Parkinson’s, the chronic illness, rule your feelings, your personal and emotional well-being.   Respect each other enough to be open and honest, vulnerable to one another.     Allow the chronic illness to become only an objective part of the landscape in which you live and grow and love. 

Yes, I would like to hear what you do with your anger.  I would like to hear what tools you use to manage it, release it, diminish its power.

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