We were a happy couple, finally retired and enjoying life. We both kept busy volunteering, had many friends and too many activities to do them all. Life was so good.
Then one evening while watching television, our whole world turned upside down in a split second. Jim, my wonderful husband of 40 years, suffered a stroke — a very bad stroke, and the doctors told me he would never be the same again. Our lives and future would be all up to me.
Knowing nothing about strokes or medicine, I read all I could and asked people for their comments and suggestions on how I could make my husband's life the best it could be. I checked with local hospitals in our area of Texas, looking for stroke-support groups that might be able to help, but I couldn't find any.
Not wanting to be swallowed up by the big, black hole I found myself picturing, I realized that my positive attitude — which I had always kept — had to be my answer. I had a lot of work ahead.
After Jim came home from the hospital, I was on 24-hour duty for anything he needed. His personality, memory and past were all but gone. The dazed look in his eyes confirmed the amount of responsibility that was on my shoulders.
Following a couple of weeks of rehabilitation and Jim learning to use a cane to get around, I became his teacher.
Over many long, slow sessions in our living room, we went over all the basic skills — the alphabet, how to hold a pencil, write on lined paper, read numbers and do simple math, as well as the value of money, especially coins. He was sure a nickel must be worth more than a dime because it was bigger.
Several months into his "schooling," his humor was coming back. He told me, "When I came here from the hospital, I really didn't know who you were. But I figured I could stay awhile. If I didn't like it, I could go live at the hospital."
About that time, I decided someone had to start a local stroke-support group, so I went ahead and started one at a local health clinic. During that experience, I realized we lived too far from family for them to visit or perhaps even give me some help. They were all on the West Coast, so in 1997 we decided to leave Texas.
Moving to Oregon was a huge endeavor that involved selling the house and packing up our entire life, but it was the best thing for both of us. I was raised to believe a person should never ask for help or accept help offered. The phrase was: "Handle it!"
So I tried. I learned to do many jobs I had never done before, and I accomplished them — but at a high price. Living at that pace, I suffered a stroke, too, in June 1998.
What a pair we were then. I found a local stroke-support group In Grants Pass that had just formed, and we became members. It was an immense help for both of us, knowing there were people who understood our lives and problems. It was a real lifesaver.
There is no instruction booklet that comes with the job of being a caregiver. A person is simply appointed to the job in a split second.
I was Jim's caregiver for seven years. He passed away eight years ago.
After being lonely for a long time, I met and married Mike, my best friend, one year ago today. Life is good once again.
The lesson I learned is that it's important to think positively and help others do the same.
Barbara Burcham-Ramsay lives in Central Point.