When dealing with a terminal illness, or even a chronic illness, the words “to death do us part” take on a new meaning.  This is especially true in  cases that involve the illnesses that tear a person down  over a long period of time.   Physically, these illnesses are extremely hard on  the person who has them.  BUT,  we need to remember that it is also as hard  on those who are close to them, especially family members.  Watching someone you love slowly deteriorate, while at the same time having to take on a new role as a  caregiver for them, can be devastating.  In many cases, such as my own, the person who  you are caring for is your spouse, the person who you planned to spend  the rest of your life with, the  person who you have raised children with and watched them  move  on to a life of  their own, the person who at one time or other  has probably cared for you while you fought an illness or an injury.

People often ask me why I title this article “Til Death Do Us Part.”  That’s easy.  Forty-eight years ago Harriet and  I stood in  front of a preacher, in front of all of our friends and family members, and promised to “have and to hold, for better or worse, in sickness and health,  til death do us part.”  We took  those words seriously, and still do.  I have survived stage 4 esophageal cancer with her support  and care; a heart attack with her support and care; and pneumonia with her  support and care, along with several of the lesser illnesses that we all get.  How could I possibly abandon her now after all the  support she has given me?

Let me digress for a moment and  give you a little history of our battle with Huntington’s Disease.  Harriet’s mother was diagnosed with it in the mid 1980’s, and passed on in 1994.  The strain of HD that she had was extremely strong, and all five of her children were  found to have it, including Harriet.  Harriet was the oldest of the five, so we expected  that she would probably be the first to pass on from  the HD, but one of her sisters and one of her brothers are  already gone.  Why then is she still here?  There are two reasons for that.   First, she has had some awesome doctors who really know this disease, and they have put  her on the most up to date drugs, which have controlled it so far, to a point.   Second, between me and our daughters she has had  a strong support system.  It is amazing what can happen when a family works together.

The question that usually comes  to mind at this point is “what’s it like to be caregiver for someone  with such  a devastating illness?”  Well,  I’m not going to say that it isn’t that bad, or that  it is easy, because in truth it  is a tough ride.  Harriet is one of the most compassionate and intelligent women that I know.  She went through high school  and college with straight A’s, always on the dean’s list.  She has been by my  side helping other couples through  some rough times, and has opened our home to several of them.  She helped both of our daughters during the early years of their marriages while they were still working, by watching  their children while they were at work.  She has helped me run some small businesses that we have had, cared for me  while I was ill, helped care for  my parents, and has just always been there for anyone  that needed help.  Now it is  her turn to receive help while she struggles with this disease.  The drugs she is on aren’t “curing” her disease, but they are controlling it’s progress to a point.  Our oldest daughter lives nearby and helps me as much as  she can even though she has her  own family to care for.  Some  of our close neighbors are very supportive.

You see, “IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT  SUPPORT.”  I have written several papers on how to build a strong support system, because when you are fighting these major illnesses, especially  those that are terminal in nature, the more support you can get or provide, the better.