Silver Linings of a Caregiver: Real-life angels, hard-earned lessons and time with family

Our whole clan accompanied Burton (in the dark green shirt) and me (just above him to the right) to Detroit’s landmark American Coney Island.

When health and other crises strike, look for silver linings

My husband’s brain surgery last fall led to complications. But 50+ years ago, we said “I do” in sickness and in health.

Looking at married life from both sides now, I confess: the health part’s more fun. As my medical advocate 14+ years ago when I suffered stage 4 cancer, Burton agrees.

Other caregivers will understand this: We’ve physically adapted our home in many ways. But we all enjoy maintaining traditions and family customs. Here Burton and I are celebrating cousin Judie’s birthday.

I’ve been busy making/attending appointments, researching resources, preparing meals (okay, picking up meals), checking on details, buying supplies, enjoying visitors. Thankfully, our aides have been good to great. But I’ve rarely had the time or heart to write more than medical notes.

Being a caregiver has silver linings. A big one is the angels who show up on the journey. Like Roger, who comes over many afternoons to play checkers with his old buddy Burt. And Judie, Burton’s first cousin, who joins us for frequent dinners and entertains us with funny stories.

Another silver lining: the things you learn.

Joanne Cruz, a social worker sent by a health-care company, mentioned a term I hadn’t heard. It applies to our current situation: Radical Acceptance.

“It’s about accepting what you can’t change or control,” Joanne said. “Change pushes us in one direction. Our gut wants to pull back. We feel powerless. We grieve what was and fear the future. We make up bad stories about what’s ahead when the truth is none of us knows. We’re all vulnerable.”

Burton seems to have come to Radical Acceptance before I have. He works hard at PT every day just to pull himself to a standing position and get his feet to move an inch or two. His positive attitude and determination are remarkable.

Joanne asked how he feels about having his left side largely shut down. (He’s left handed.) And about challenges with speech, memory and logic.

This is a man who came back from our honeymoon with 13 cents in his pocket, built a company that’s afforded us more than comfortable lives, chaired well over a dozen boards of directors. A man who excelled at golf, was a crack shot with a rifle, flew airplanes, spent hours fly fishing and who, like many Detroit born boys, adored driving. This is a grandfather who took grandkids on frequent adventures, who planned a treasure hunt at our farm up north and financed two in-ground trampolines and a sport court.

This is a man who lost his father when he was 11 and became the father and grandfather he wished he’d had.

And yet…

In light of his current health issues, Joanne asked Burton how he was feeling. Given the same situation, I’d be crying and carrying on nonstop. My resilient husband said, “I’ve got work to do, but emotionally I’m pretty good with it.”

“How far in the future do you look?” Joanne asked.

“I’m not looking at the future at this point,” he said. “This Rehab is just something I have to do. When I finish, I’ll be better.”

Talk about Radical Acceptance. The traits with which Burton built his career and ran organizations are the traits he’s still applying. I’ve often said Burton has a vocabulary deficiency. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word: No.

Another major silver lining: time with our sons.

David lives nearby but with a new baby, 3 more sons and a career that demands travel, we didn’t seem him often. Now he comes over more to visit his dad and check in with me. Andy flies in from Chicago and spends 2 days a week with us. Bonus: several times he’s taken me out to dinner. He researched wheelchair capable vans and accompanied me to rent one.

Andy, Amy and our granddaughters visited on a recent Sunday. Our grandkids love getting together. Thanks to our nifty van, we were able to accommodate Burton’s chair. Along with 2 more vehicles, we all drove downtown for Coney Islands.

50+ years ago, Burton and I often ended dates with hotdogs from Lafayette Coney Island. On this occasion, American Coney Island next door proved more accessible. They didn’t even object when our Chicago gang brought along their new Doodle Mac.

It was Burton’s first real outing in months (not counting trips to hospitals or doctors). Some of you know about our Thanksgiving Day Slide Ride (see blog post). Burton, who started the tradition, couldn’t make it last fall. Our family trip to Coney Island helped compensate. Thanks to my cell phone camera, we immortalized the memory.

Making memories can take effort. But they’re worth it. Wishing you and yours good health, silver linings and magical memories.

Even as we enjoy each day we have together, now, we love to recall fond family memories we’ve shared. Our sons surprised Burton for his 75th birthday by traveling down to Florida to see us—and, of course, they had to go fishing.

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16 thoughts on “Silver Linings of a Caregiver: Real-life angels, hard-earned lessons and time with family

  1. Linda Solomon

    Always keep 13 cents in a pocket to symbolize your love , determination to strive , no matter what !
    My dad always said “ life is a like a bouncing ball .”
    Burton will bounce back !
    Prayers and love ,
    Linda

  2. Debra Darvick

    Oh Suzy,

    You challenge us all to find the silver linings.
    And radical acceptance.

    May Burton experience refuah shlema, a complete healing
    of body and spirit.

  3. Suzy Farbman

    As emailed from Kim Cornetet:
    Loved this! What a family. What a guy and amazing you.
    (Thanks so much, Kim. Back atcha.)
    As emailed from Junia Doan:
    Life has some very good times and very challenging times. Stay the course. Sending loving energy.
    (Thanks, Junia. You’ve known them as well. Enjoying your program.)
    as emailed from Ellen Kahn:
    Again, such meaningful expressions you have shared with us in your heartfelt feelings.
    (Thanks, Ellen. You know those feelings all too well.)
    as emailed from Fran Zielsdorf:
    Your post is beautiful. You will always find the silver lining. You are that kind of person. High five to Burt for being so tenacious and positive. We will keep you all in our prayers.
    (Thanks, Fran. Appreciate your response and encouragement.)

    Thank you Kim, Junia, Ellen & Fran for the emails. I treasure you all. God bless.

  4. Antonina Victor

    Suzy,
    Beautifully written. Thank you.
    Burton continues to inspire all of us with his extraordinary determination, hard work and with his bright, generous spirit. His love for his family, even in these difficult times, is unequivocal and pure.

    What an extraordinary man you married!
    Love you both! Tonia

  5. Karen Raff

    Your silver linings are gold-rimmed words that I will always carry in my heart. I’m a caregiver in s similar position. Walking in another’s shoes helps put it all in perspective. Love you dearly.

  6. Cheryl Chodun

    Think about you and Burton and the boys and their families often …and feel sad and sorry that Burton is dealing with this most difficult situation but it sounds like his attitude and strength of character along with prayers and medical advancements will help him on this journey …thank you for sharing so much and finding “silver linings”. It does put so much in perspective. One of my three sisters has stage 4 gastric cancer but she too is pushing through it, researching every possible medical and holistic thing that might help her …and it is!! So with help and determination , I think miraculous things can happen for her and hopefully for Burton too!! Everyday is a blessing for sure…every hug from our kids/grandkids/spouses/siblings are to treasure… sometimes people let the smallest annoyance get them down …I know your post Suzy has lifted them up! Hope all our love and prayers can in some small way do the same for you and Burton …sending love and healing thoughts💕💕

    1. Suzy Farbman

      Thanks, Cheryl. We do go way back. Burton and I have watched your career with the same admiration we had for your family back in HW days. Prayers for your sister. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  7. Benjamin Pratt

    Suzy and Burton,
    I am keeping you in my prayers. I delight in your powerful article about your difficult journey accompanied with many angels, re-enforced learnings, wonderful surprises, hard knock resilience and radical acceptance. Thank you, with blessings of Hope,
    Benjamin

    1. Suzy Farbman

      Thanks, Benjamin. Words of praise from an esteemed colleague. Appreciate your gracious comment.

    2. Linda Milne

      So glad to see you’re back to writing in Read the Spirit! Beautiful piece about a beautiful family – a silver lining for all of us! Thank you.
      Our love to you and Burt

  8. Rich Bergman

    Dear Suzy
    I hope you have received our calls, emails prayers and positive thoughts for Burt, you and your family. Please know that I would love to come over to play checkers, tell stories and help in any way possible.
    Rich Bergman

    1. Suzy Farbman

      Thanks, Rich. Bring your woolies. We’re in Michigan. Thanks for the sweet comment.

  9. Shirley Piku

    Thank you for sharing such intimate feelings. Gives us a lot to think about and to be thankful for. We return from Sunny Key West first week of April and I am sure Frank will have some fishing stories to share with Burton! xoxo

    1. Suzy Farbman

      Thanks, Shirley. Looking forward to those fishing tales. And to seeing you both again. Travel safely.

  10. Duffy Wineman

    You summed it up beautifully, Suzy. There are indeed silver linings … even many years later.
    Family is everything. Thank you.
    P.S. Of course he’s a lefty! The smartest people on earth.

    1. Suzy Farbman

      Thanks, Duffy. The admiration is mutual. We are blessed with fabulous families. And with awesome friends like you.

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