The spiders are back already. After a mild winter and a hot spring and start to summer in the Midwest, they are creeping out of the attic earlier this year and bigger than ever.
So I thought I would post my essay, Arachnophobia and Love, from my Family Recipe book.
I hope you enjoy it.
P.S. No pictures in this post. If I included a picture of a spider, I wouldn’t be able to read my own post. I never could read page 26 of Charlotte’s Web.
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ARACHNOPHOBIA AND LOVE
“If you want me to marry you, you have to promise to kill all the spiders,” I demanded of my fiancé.
I have always been deathly afraid of spiders. One good reason to marry was to have someone to dispose of unwanted nasties. If he wouldn’t make this promise, he wasn’t the right man for me.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he responded.
“Seriously,” I said. I wouldn’t let it go. I nagged him till he agreed.
Of course, he’s broken his commitment many times in our thirty-four years of marriage. He sometimes was away when the arachnids crept out. He was more worried about staining and denting walls and ceilings than about disposing of the critters efficiently. Over the years, he pursued his duties as spider assassin with indifference.
But I still considered it part of the marriage vows. And, to give him credit, he often abandoned his book or TV show – albeit with deep sighs of disgust at my fright – to exterminate the spiders.
Until a few months ago, when he broke his ankle and had surgery to mend it. In the middle of a Midwestern heat wave.
Something about temperatures above 85 degrees brings spiders out of our attic and into the rooms below. This summer, with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees for weeks on end, even the granddaddy spiders left the security of the attic for the comfort of air-conditioning.
My husband’s immobility meant I had to kill them. I didn’t respond well to my new responsibility.
As disabilities go, we were very lucky. His ankle healed. But it gave me the opportunity to reflect on many aspects of disability and caregiving.
First, I discovered the instantaneous disruption that injuries and sudden illness can cause. Our schedule came to an abrupt halt with his accident, and was further disturbed after the surgery. I became valet, cook and chauffeur, in addition to spider slayer, with no warning. We had to cancel two vacations, one of which was a long-anticipated trip to a remote wilderness – impossible when he could not walk.
I also learned about my lack of patience. I was easily frustrated by minor inconveniences, even though I loved the man making demands on me. I wondered as I toted and fetched for him, trotting up and down the stairs more times than I thought possible, if he couldn’t do a little more for himself – at least put on his own sock, for goodness sake. If his injury really required all the moaning and groaning and constant twitching at night. If he had to give me detailed instructions on how to water the yard and clean the kitchen and take over all the other chores he had done for years. And if he couldn’t phrase his requests for help with just a little more gratitude and a little less entitlement.
When I was on crutches many years ago, I said “thank you” so many times to so many people every day. I learned that people were very willing to help, but it was important to show my appreciation. Why couldn’t my husband learn the same lesson? Especially when I reminded him.
In addition, I was humbled when I compared myself to the couples I know who have faced huge health crises in their marriages. My father has adapted to my mother’s dementia. My mother-in-law has coped for years with my father-in-law’s blindness and increasing immobility. Even after his move to a nursing home, she visits him almost every day. A friend has handled her husband’s care since his stroke over two years ago; he is still in rehabilitation, which may last the rest of his life.
These caregivers face long-term debilitating health issues with courage, endurance, and generally good humor. They must feel the emotions I felt magnified a thousand times – irritation at demands from those who cannot help themselves, resentment at the disruption to their lives, fear of confronting new responsibilities. Yet they continued to provide care. Because what other option did they have?
Finally, I learned the importance of caring for one’s self along with the loved one in need. One day shortly after my husband’s surgery I volunteered all day in a customer service role, and then came home to take care of him. I was frazzled. Before I could cook his dinner I needed solitude and silence. I left him alone for another half-hour while I read the newspaper.
I told my husband what I was doing, and he said, “So you’re putting your oxygen mask on first.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The flight attendants say to put on your mask before helping your child. Is that what you’re doing?”
He was right – that’s what I was doing. And it was important. Caregivers face responsibilities that seem endless, which is why it is vital to have interests and escapes apart from caregiving.
So I learned a lot while he was laid up. I am sorry my husband was in pain, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to reflect about caregiving.
But I’m not glad I had to deal with spiders. I will never make that adjustment, no matter what the future brings.