A Caregiver, The Story of an Ultimate Caring Partner

karen&greg

by Paula Susan~Karen Brash McGreer is an ultimate caregiver. She is light and she is love – bright, bold, blond, beautiful, bodacious, audacious, generous, gifted, honest, fun, competent, warm, and did I mention – she personifies love!

When I approached Karen for a follow-up to my interview with her husband Greg (MS – The Curse That Was A Blessing) I suggested that the way in which she has approached her care-giving could be valuable to readers. She reminded me, “We are caring partners!” That indeed describes their successful way of dealing with the complexities of one partner being chronically ill.

You can already tell that Greg is the introversion to Karen’s extroversion; yet they have been one with their vision. Let me backtrack just a little.

Karen had a disappointing first marriage which, however, produced three wonderful children. Her second marriage was to a marvelous man, Clive Brash, who in their short eight years together, taught her much about how to really live. He died of multiple complications of sickle cell anemia. Through him, she learned to value each moment: a learning that has prepared her to live life well in her marriage with Greg.

When she and Greg were first blown away by their love for each other, Greg was still walking and he already had the diagnosis of progressive multiple sclerosis. Having buried one husband who had been so ill, I had to ask the question, “What were you thinking?” Her answer defines who she is as a human being. “It was worth it with Clive and it is worth it with Greg.”

Before her career as a psychotherapist specializing in couples and sex therapy, Karen had been a rehab nurse. She knew all too well the different forms MS could take. Wisdom being another of her attributes, she accepted that we will all experience aging and illness, where one partner needs extra care. And, given Greg’s temperament, she trusted that he would take as much personal responsibility for his self-care as she would for hers.

So, loving as they did, Greg and Karen set their intention on a lasting, mutually supportive, vibrantly alive marriage, and that is what they have today! That is obvious to everyone who knows them.

When they made this promise to each other, they also committed themselves to a marriage that was sexually fulfilling. Some might wonder how this could be. For the past twenty years, the painless resolution to one of Greg’s many losses was penile injection therapy.

I wondered how she compartmentalizes sexual desire and fulfillment on one hand, and the tasks of his personal care on the other. Her answer is so Karen. “You just intend” to think of them as separate. The problems are only a facet of who he is. And, it is true that he is this handsome caring, loving, smart, spiritual, deep man who loves her dearly and is there for her needs. She says it is always a give and take in every relationship.

Karen’s own health issues have meant that she is not able to do as much of the physical “heavy lifting” as she used to, so they have been increasing their use of aides. Greg is the one to patiently train each, as they rotate through the doors, easily burned out or not up to the task.

We both read Cohen’s Dirty Details, a vivid account of her own experience as a well-spouse with an MS-afflicted husband. I read it filled with my own conflicting emotions. Venting her rage was her way of coping. Her young son told her that his brain hurt when she screamed. It seemed that her children were being raised by an angry, bitter woman who felt “raped” by her husbands demands, and a father whose physical abilities continued to diminish. She railed at her husband, “How could you do this to me?” as he lay trapped in his bed.

In truth, I’m glad Cohen wrote the book. It is a gift for people who live that existence. They should be allowed their moments of anger, rage, poor me. However, to be so explosive with such venom… . I asked Karen, “How did you escape such feelings?” She answered that what eliminated the possibility of bitterness was her determination not to be like her mother. She doesn’t wish to make her life a drama. It is what it is, and they nurture their love and appreciation for each other – every day.

One glaring difference is in her basic personality and another is that she and Greg have a bond that is deep, as is their faith. They also have a lot of help from the VA, whose value has been immeasurable to them. They saw psychologist Dr. Steven Sayers for years, and also Dr. Dan Gottlieb, when their differences and Greg’s longing for autonomy and Karen’s feeling too responsible for Greg’s safety got in the way of their peaceful loving.

Marion had tirades about how untenable her life was. Everyone has their own tolerance level. Karen feels blessed and happy with her life. While Marion resolved her situation by moving her husband to Inglis House, Karen and Greg plan to remain at home together. She says, “My life would not be as rich if Greg were not here.”

Karen has made a life for herself that helps guard against burn-out. She belongs to the Well Spouse Foundation and has gone on weekend respites with other care-giving spouses. She plays water volley- ball regularly. She does Pilates, they both do Yoga – he in his wheelchair. They go to movies, dinner, and theater. They no longer take long RV trips, but they have enjoyed cruises. Sometimes there are challenges because of Greg’s needs, and they meet them. Their kids, grandkids and friends fill their home. One thing she and Marion have in common, they both love thrift shopping.

And the most important of all is that this woman loves to sing and does she ever! She and Greg have produced the cabaret “What’s So Funny About Love and Marriage?” She sings the American Song Book and shares the struggles we all have in maintaining the love. “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” Karen knows the answer, and teaches it well.

They talk about the inevitable end. They are not ready for that yet. Greg is deeply precious to her every day. She knows that when he goes she will have profound loss – the paradox – having two decades of life with him will leave pain, as well as amazing joy, adventure, and fun. These will in no way cancel each other out.

“Do you get that I am happy? I have a full, rich and happy life. We all have hard things. I’ve had luck in love.. I don’t know anyone’s life I would trade for mine.” It seems to me that it’s all in the intention, the attitude, and a loving heart.

 

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About Paula Susan

Paula Susan, MSW, LCSW, Masters in Clinical Social Work & Psychology; specialist in Trauma and Relationships since 1982. In 1991, I integrated the powerfully transformative process of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Research demonstrates that it facilitates life-altering changes more efficiently and effectively than talk therapy alone. I teach skills such as communication and anxiety relief to improve connection with others. Over the decades, I’ve come to respect how much damage even small traumatic experiences inflict on our core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. I consider it a privilege to help my clients understand and change what has undermined their happiness and their relationships. I do it with warmth, integrity, humor, and profound respect for those who care about the quality of this small piece of time we have on earth.www.paulasusan.com

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