THE PERFECT GIFT
2009 "Give a Caregiver a Break" GRAND-PRIZE WINNER: Bob
Photography by Charlie Samuels
It's odd when tragedy strikes, you can escape by worrying about small things.
When my wife, Carole, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, I worried about what I would get her now that she was paralyzed in both arms, with a guarantee that things would get worse.
In 44 years of marriage a lot of gifts were exchanged. I would give her gifts of jewelry and clothes, but I could never go wrong getting anything related to her beloved garden. My favorite gift from her was a clothes valet in the shape of an exercise bike.Now I was at a loss as to what I could give to cheer her up.
People would tell me taking over the daily chores of cooking, cleaning, bathing and everything else was my gift. Living in near isolation caring for her was a generous gift, they would tell me. Certainly any kindness is a worthy gift, but I have a problem calling a responsible act of love a gift.
I remember taking a pledge, "For better or for worse." Because of the near-forfeiture of my personal life, I was able to make do around the house. What I couldn't do was lift Carole's spirits.
As winter led into spring and nice weather arrived her sad mood became worse. I couldn't get her outside, which made me resentful because it deprived me of the joy that is spring. Rather self-centered, I would gripe, "After all I've sacrificed...."
One day she confided in our daughter Lisa, that she couldn't bear going outside to see the gardens that would soon fall into decay because she couldn't take care of them.
The idea of a perfect gift struck me when I heard that. With the help of my daughter, I called several of her gardener friends and told them about Carole. The next Saturday they arrived, tools in hand, to begin weeding and planting. Neighbors noticed the activity and began to help. By noon, it turned into a block party. Carole came out of the house to offer thanks, a few tips—and a lot of supervision. I manned the grill and fed their bodies as a reward for them feeding our souls.
Many still stop by regularly to tend the plants. The gardens are not what they would be if Carole were able to tend them, but in many ways they are more beautiful because they are friendship gardens.
The experience taught me I cannot do it alone. There is a time when you have to go outside and seek help—be it volunteer or professional. The world is filled with good generous people and caring professional organizations willing and able to help if told how they can be of assistance.
Our days are still long. The future is fearful. But every day, especially when we look at the gardens, we know we are not alone and help is there if we seek it.
— Bob Goepfert, Ballston Lake, NY
Winner of $5000 in free respite care
from Home Instead Senior Care