Peter and Gracie Rosenberger

Keeping love alive in a relationship affected by disease, impairment, and/or chronic pain is daunting. For families with a disabled loved one, the divorce rate lingers around 90 percent. The heartache is intensified as memories and loneliness crash like waves during key events such as anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays.

Valentine’s Day is one such day where cultural nostalgia often leads caregivers into dark emotional places as they relate to a loved one who can no longer participate in even the simplest of holiday activities.

Rather than embrace the sinking feelings of discouragement and despair, caregivers can push back—and make their way to a healthier emotional place. It may seem simple, even pointless to some, but a caregiver can choose to do something as small as purchase their own Valentine’s Day card. By picking a card the impaired loved one might have picked if he or she could, a caregiver can esteem the relationship and even bring a smile to what is often a tear-stained face.

There are so many other ways for a caregiver to celebrate a relationship that is worth celebrating. Make a favorite meal that you both loved—even if it means dining alone or in silence. Watch a beloved movie that brings back fond memories, even if you are the only one who stays awake until the end. Listen to “that” song, even if you dance alone. Yes, there is an element of sadness to the activity, but sadness is normal for the circumstances. Tempering that sadness by rejoicing in cherished memories nourishes the heart of a caregiver.

During more than three decades as a caregiver for my wife through her medical nightmare, I’ve continued to be challenged to “see the heart, not the chart.” The needs of the body all too often drown out the cry of the heart, and I often throw my energy and attention to the medical crisis du jour—while failing to tend to a matter of the heart also warranting my care.

The tightrope we caregivers often traverse is listening to the moan of the body and the heart—theirs and ours. Our loved ones hurt . . . because they hurt. Losing control over one’s body, mind, and emotions is a painful thing on multiple levels. Is it any wonder that the relationship takes a beating with all this heartache?

We caregivers can navigate this shifting minefield, but we must tread softly. The goal is to do the best we can with the information and the resources we have. Though we are unable to fix any of this, we can still maintain our own identity, a certain peace of mind, and a level of serenity. We can ease the unrealistic expectations we put on our loved ones and ourselves, endeavor to accept the situation for what it is (rather than what we wish it would be), and sometimes bite our tongues when we’d rather speak our minds.

As caregivers, we make judgment calls every day on how to balance the relationship with the disease or disability. When a salon appointment conflicts with a trip to the doctor, sometimes we opt for our loved one to get her hair styled. There will always be a doctor visit, but sometimes a nice haircut can be good medicine as well. The heart wants what the heart wants. We caregivers often get tripped up by trying to decipher what is right or wrong—but sometimes, we’re simply not going to know. We can, however, pursue what is healthy for us and our loved one. Honoring the heart is healthy. Failing to do so will only result in resentment and burnout, taking caregivers into dark places.

A hospital bed or a wheelchair may muffle, but it cannot silence, a great love

During difficult times, pausing to honoring the extraordinary love and dedication that inspires one to serve as a caregiver is healthy. A hospital bed or a wheelchair may muffle, but it cannot silence, a great love. Days that often cause dismay and despair for caregivers can, with a change of perspective and a little creativity, be the impetus for reflecting on an extraordinary journey of both love and joy. The heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart of a caregiver wants to celebrate and rejoice. A disease or a disability can be a formidable adversary to a caregiver’s heart—yet that heart is motivated by a tremendous love that, if properly nourished, is far stronger than any affliction.

Peter Rosenberger is a radio host, author, and speaker who draws upon this 30+ years as a caregiver to serve as an advocate to and for the family caregiver. His experience of caring for his wife, Gracie, through 78 surgeries, multiple amputations, and more than $10 million in medical bills has made him an authority on navigating the financial and emotional burdens caregivers face.

Since 2013 he has hosted his own weekly radio show on the topic, broadcasting on Nashville’s 1510 WLAC and iHeartRadio, which streams worldwide. Peter’s first book, Hope for the Caregiver, is now in its third printing, and his much-anticipated second book, 7 Caregiver Landmines and How You Can Avoid Them, released November 1st, in time for National Family Caregivers Month. To learn more about the service of caregiving, visit Follow Peter’s daily journey on Facebook and Twitter