Dear Carol: My husband’s an experienced carpenter, so there’s rarely been a house problem that he couldn’t fix. Now that’s changed because he had a stroke a year ago, which took away most of his ability to use his tools. He gets upset when he notices things around our home that need fixing because he can’t do the work. I can live with imperfections, but seeing the look on his face when our swollen front door sticks or a deck board cracks makes me want to cry. We can afford to hire the work done, but he refuses to consider it. Is it better to just let it be, which hurts him, or should I insist on having things fixed at the risk of hurting him even more? — CT.
Dear CT: I’m so sorry for both of you. We all know that this is how life can work, yet that doesn’t make accepting reality any easier when these losses happen to us.
It’s essential for your husband to take the time to concentrate on maintaining his health by following his doctors’ directives, which may include diet and exercise as well as physical and/or occupational therapy. The additional challenge of discovering a new normal for his life and for your relationship means that he already has his work cut out for him, but he understandably wants more.
Your husband is used to the traditional role of being the fixer around the house. Someone who’s worked with his hands as he has might even view the loss of his ability to use his tools to build and repair things around your home as a major blow to his masculinity and self-esteem. Maybe you could help him understand that while his body may not work as well as it did, he hasn’t lost access to all that he has learned through his years of experience.
Now is the time for him to transition from a hands-on role for your home repairs to perhaps a foreman-like role. Since you said that you can afford to have the home repairs and improvements taken care of by others, make a list together consisting of what needs fixing now, and what types of improvements both of you would like to see in order to keep your home safe and comfortable for both of you well into your later years. He could then begin to build a team of people who he can hire to do the manual part of his projects. If he can accept his new role as valid and important, he may also become more accepting of his new normal.
People who’ve had strokes are at high risk for depression, so encourage your husband to seek help from a counselor if his outlook doesn’t improve over time. Also, consider a stroke survivor support group. Peers who understand what your husband faces can offer enormous comfort, as well as practical ideas.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.