Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston



Monday, November 3, 2014

The Unsung Heroes Who Give Up Everything To Care For A Sick Partner

The Huffington Post featured my brother-in-law, Charles Gray, as the caregiver to my sister, Grace.

I wrote about her a few years ago at The Swash Zone and the dementia that changed her life, as well as the lives of those who love her. 

To recap my story, Grace was more like a mother than a sister to me, since our family lost our mother to an illness when I was 15 months old, and Grace was a teenager. She became the mother of the family, taking care of her baby sister, her pre-teen sister, and her father.  She met and married Charlie at 17, and they've been together ever since.  Grace was a voice student at The Berklee School of Music in Boston studying opera.  She had a natural coloratura soprano voice and could have had a decent career singing in local opera productions, but she married what the family called a "starving young artist," and the two of them went off to New York City to make a life for themselves (they struggled, but didn't starve).  

After living in NYC for a couple of years, they returned to the Boston area where Charlie started his career in advertising and graphic design, but he continued to paint and sell his work. Eventually they started a family and raised their children in the suburbs of Boston. Grace and Charlie were founding members of a local musical theater group, where Grace starred in many productions, and Charlie did set decorations and the art work for the publicity posters. Their oldest child, a son, is the mayor of a town on the North Shore.  Their youngest child, my niece, died tragically 9 years ago.  They live west of Boston in the same town where their middle child, a daughter, a director at Heifer International, and her husband live, as well as Grace and Charlie's three grandaughters and four great grandchildren.

Charles Gray, 88, is a caregiver for his wife Grace, who has dementia. 

 "On a daily basis, I do everything. I’m a 100 percent caregiver. She’s a very needy person. I don’t mean that as a negative, but she needs me all of the time. Every minute and every second of every day I have to be with her. That’s a strain on me. My whole life I’ve been an artist and I’ve given up my art work, of course. I can’t do that at all. I feel bad about that, of course. It’s just that I can’t get away; I can’t concentrate on it now. Art requires 1000 percent concentration, so I just can’t do it anymore. 

I really don’t take care of myself. I read magazines. We get The New Yorker and Time magazine, and I find those short articles quite nice, because while I’m sitting with her and she’s watching television, I can drift off into a story. That helps me get away from it, but that’s as far as I can get. I don’t resent being a caregiver. I do it out of love, because we’ve been married for 67 years. It’s what I want to do. 

 She comes first in the house, and the whole family knows that. We discourage anyone from telling her that she has dementia, because that’s only cruelty. She said today, ‘Where is my husband?’ so I sat down and put my arm around her and tried to explain that he’s right here and he’s been here for years. As the days go by, she gets worse and worse. 

That's all I can say; that’s all I know. I can see it happening everyday. I haven’t looked for any [support groups]. I don’t think I can find anyone in the exact same situation that I’m in and so what if I did? It’s not going to help me. And when would I talk to them? My life turned out to be a caregiver, but I’m not a remarkable person. 

I’m just a person who does it, that’s all. There’s nothing remarkable about me."

 I strongly disagree with Charlie's last statement. He is a truly remarkable man.


Jerry Critter said...

He is a remarkable person and there is help available to him. But he has to ask.

(O)CT(O)PUS said...

Charlie: "I do it out of love ..."

Although it is hard to reconcile oneself to losing a loved one by degrees from dementia, your sister is truly blessed to have such a devoted husband. Today, your lovely family will be in my thoughts.

okjimm said...

so commendable. Dementia, and other age related disabilities, truly expand on the concept of love,loyalty and devotion.

billy pilgrim said...

my 89 year old mother has dementia and my 93 year old father is her main care giver. i have a 100 year old aunt whose mind is clear as a bell but her body is on it's last legs. so it goes.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Yes, billy, so it goes.

A note of interest to you. My brother-in-law was born in Everett, Mass., but grew up in Sunny Brae, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. He's culturally more Canadian than American, though his father was an American citizen, his mother was Canadian. He was a downhill skier into his early 80s.

Blessings on your mother and father. And may your aunt live to another 100 years!

Shaw Kenawe said...

Thank you Jerry, (O)CT(O), okjimm, and billy for your kind words.