FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES — “LET’S TALK”
Anyone reading this blog, who knows me personally, will know that I can talk, and talk, and talk… despite never having kissed the Blarney Stone!!
Some may say I talk a load of nonsense, some will say I talk a lot of sense, and there will even be some who say it is just nice to hear me talk. But sadly not everyone is able to communicate, and I don’t simply mean the inability to communicate in a purely physical way. We are all able to communicate – it may be different to how some people perceive communication but it is communication all the same.
So, I today I find myself thinking about communication, having recently read a feature in the Daily Mail – Female Magazine section about Sue Norton. Sue was a typical forces wife, whose strong athletic husband was badly injured in action in Iraq. In the article, Sue talked frankly about coping with the responsibility of “caring” for her badly injured husband and juggling the demands of raising a young family.
The upshot of the article was that Sue found herself unable to cope with the life changing situation, that she and her husband found themselves in.
But what intrigued me most, was the assumption of a different role by Sue, from that of wife, mother and lover, to “carer”. Time and again, we read stories and hear media coverage of partners transforming themselves into ‘carers’ for their loved ones. And, that is where I think the problem arises. Accident, illness or simply old age can change the dynamics of a relationship overnight. Cracks will appear if there has been no real, meaningful and deep communication, between the partners concerned during their time together.
However, this is not a new situation. In my book, Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes, I tell of when the children of the Thalidomide tragedy were born, there were families ripped apart, because of an inability to cope with such a dramatic change of circumstances. My parents had been married for barely six months when I was born. Were it not for their deep Catholic faith, and their ability to communicate with each other, I have no doubt that my life would be very different to what it is today.
Marriages floundered in the mire of this small portion of history – just as they do today. Like today, the amount of support to help families through such a life changing experience was non-existent. It is little wonder therefore, that 50% of Thalidomide children found themselves abandoned to homes and hospitals, because of a parental inability to cope with the events that unfolded. Armed forces families, like the families of the Thalidomide generation, span the whole social spectrum. It is ironic how tragedy and heartache have no bearing on your bank balance, social standing or where you live. It is completely indiscriminate.
So, I have to pose the question, why do some relationships survive, whilst others do not?
The Psychologist in me says that the substance and longevity, or otherwise, of a relationship would, most likely, have been established from the start. I believe that a healthy relationship is made up of mutual respect, trust, honesty, support, fairness/equality, separate identities, but above all good communication. Consequently, there will be some couples who can rise to the challenge of tragedy in their lives, whilst others cannot, particularly if these elements do not exist within the relationship.
Human nature, being what it is, means that some of us are able to cope with a situation better than others. It does not mean that we are any lesser person because of that, but simply our characteristics allow us to deal with situations in different ways.
Up and down the country there are countless partners helping their disabled spouses to live happy and empowered lives. Whether they describe themselves as ‘carers’ depends on many things, such as age – older people tend to use the expression “carer” more readily than younger people; or attitude – the non-disabled partner may still love there now disabled partner, but sadly no longer see themselves as lovers and equals, but as ‘care giver’ and ‘care receiver’, hence “carer”; or occasionally I have come across couples who introduce themselves as “carers” with immense pride — for example, “we have been married 11 years but since his accident I am now his carer”. The role or tag of “carer” seems to give them some purpose or kudos or power, that presumably they lacked before.
Personally, I find it all quite sad and depressing to think that couples think of each other as equals when they are fit and healthy, but their whole behaviour and attitude changes if their circumstances change, i.e. one of them becomes a disabled person.
In our house, Steve does a lot of the domestic aspects of running our household, and provides me with most of my personal support. However, he would never dream of being called my ‘carer’. He insists that he is my husband, and the elements of help or support that he gives me are part and parcel of being in a loving and meaningful relationship.
I believe that a great deal of the difficulty surrounding supporting a disabled partner can be alleviated by communication. When a person becomes disabled, it is generally accepted as being rather like bereavement. There is a mourning period for the life that the person once had, and for what has been lost, now that they have acquired an impairment. In the same way that we have bereavement counsellors, maybe we should also have counsellors trained to help people with newly acquired impairments. This would help them and their families, appreciate that life does not simply stop when accident or illness strikes. It is possible to have a fulfilling personal and professional life despite profound impairment, but it really does depend on communication.
A good relationship depends on each person being able to say what they feel, and not to feel threatened, simply because one partner is less able than the other.
On a lighter note, Steve reckons that our communication is good. He says that at home we have singular differences of opinion, but in the end Rosie is always right!! Seriously however, I confess to being lucky to have a stable and happy relationship and home life. Every individual in our household has an opinion that is valued.
I hope that in time, partners who find themselves in that cycle of despair, like the one in which Sue Norton found herself, will see that communication can be a remedy for so many problems. And, with that in mind, the first thing they should do, when a life changing situation arises, is to sit down and say “Let’s Talk.”