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Supporting an ill spouse is a heavy burden

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The first time my heart was broken I was 13 years old, and I eased the hurt by going to my room and playing my Frank Sinatra recording of "I'll Never Smile Again." Frank was still there for me when my heart was broken again at 14 and again at 15. The hurt was a little different each time, and so were the songs. And when I grew up, Frank Sinatra was still singing to my happy heart and my sad times. Frank, I decided, was more constant than my heart, and his recordings became the theme songs of my life.

But music was not always my answer, because not all pain is emotional; some pain is physical. Each of us is forced to face some kind of pain almost every day. No one knows that better than those who live with a suffering spouse. For them there seems to be no place to turn. Read this next letter.Dear Lois: My wife (68) is eight years older than I and suffering from significant osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, bursitis, is on anti-depressants, has irritable bowel syndrome and other painful maladies. I am at my wits' end trying to work and be here for her. Doctors won't give her the time to try to help manage her pain. To those of us who live with it, we know the reality of her pain and its terrible limitations. Where do I go from here?

- Marital Caregiver

Dear Marital: Doctors tell me that your wife has some of the most painful illnesses known, and since this column dispenses no medical advice, I cannot recommend any medical center that might offer her pain relief. I do suggest that you consult your doctors about pain specialists in your area and see if they are able to assist in management of her condition.

Oftentimes meditation is recommended. But you seem on the edge yourself, and I would recommend that you speak with your doctor (or hers) about ways you can handle your own feelings at this time. Do you need more exercise? Additional help in the home? Some time away? If your personal situation is eased in some ways, it may increase your tolerance for her numerous problems.

Dear Lois: My 4-year-old granddaughter saw her dad cut off the heads of his recent fish catch, and it really upset her. She told her preschool group that her daddy killed the fish, and she refused to eat it. How should this situation be handled?

- Barb

Dear Barb: The best way is for dad to tell the truth, admit that he caught the fish and then prepared it in order that the family might enjoy eating it. He should explain that all the fish she sees in restaurants, supermarkets and at home have been caught in order to provide good food for families. This should give her an opportunity to explain why she doesn't want Daddy to "kill" fish and learn what is really at the root of her concern. Is she afraid Daddy will hurt her? Does she think Daddy is mean? Your letter reminds us all that those ordinary duties (such as cleaning fish) that are part of life look different to young children.