In sickness and in health –keep this in mind should you become your partner’s carer.

Life in later years can have its shocks. With one being to realise your partner’s declining health is moving you into the role of carer.

That’s not the plan but it can become the reality – whether all of a sudden or gradually.

Is there wisdom that might help us now or in the future? I’ve spoken to a few who have their own story to tell and able to share what they’ve learned. And hope their wisdom might help others – even you if that moment comes.

Understanding the issues

For example, I can tell you about Janet and Ray – not their real names of course – who had always worked harmoniously together. They’d been like ‘two wheels’ – raising their kids, running the family business and taking on various roles at church. Everyone agreed they complemented each other perfectly.

‘At first I didn’t notice,’ Janet told me, ‘but bit by bit Ray was losing ground and no longer the strong man he’d always been. Little things I had to do because he no longer could, his mind slowing down, me feeling anxiety I never had before.’

A year later came the blow of a Parkinson’s diagnosis. With Ray becoming increasingly dependent on Janet. How did she adjust and what helped?

She told me, ‘My emotions were hard to cope with. Part of me was – unreasonably – angry with him. I felt bereaved. I sometimes resented it all and then felt guilty.

‘My doctor was supportive, and I managed not to fall into depression as some do. Sometimes being allowed to escape for a while made a difference, to do something just for me. And the understanding of others was a huge help. Sometimes we could laugh about it all, which was a relief actually.’

Janet found having a daily routine essential but hard to achieve. On difficult days they just got through the jobs one by one and ate their meals until thankfully it came to bedtime and hopping the next day would be easier. Which, sometimes, it was.

She also found they needed things to look forward to. To break the monotony and trial of living with pain and disability – which, in their different ways, they both were. As Janet explained, ‘Ray loved Sundays; to go to church and enjoy the singing, hear the message, see his friends. And my weekly Zumba session saved my sanity sometimes.’

Practical action

From someone else I gathered this list of ‘Random notes to a friend whose spouse is terminally ill’. They are in not in order of importance and include both practical and personal thoughts. Only some will apply in any given situation and you may want to add your own.

  • Learn how the boiler works and find out about the many other tasks they have always done
  • Get copies off all their online passwords.
  • If you have separate bank accounts transfer any cash at the bank from the one who is soon to ‘be promoted to heaven’. Otherwise that money will be frozen until after probate.
  • Check they are content with their Will – any legacies to add? Talk about any personal items they would like to go to family members, friends, godchildren. Specified items mean so much to the recipient – ‘She wanted you specially to have this.’
  • Children and grandchildren. Are there things to be said, or letters to write while health permits? Say or write deep things, thanks, and reminiscences while you can.
  • Go through significant papers together, check you understand what is needed for the future.
  • Think ahead and avoid ‘if onlys’
  • Share your fears, sorrow and grief if given the time
  • In the later stages get the extra help you need – try to take breaks from being the carer.
  • Enjoy what you can together while you can. Spend time
  • ‘Just being there’ is a great comfort to the one who is coming to the end of their life. Give ‘permission’ to your loved one to let go, if need be.

Use the available help

The temptation is to soldier on – sometimes out of pride and sometimes because it seems easier than involving others. But that can be a recipe for disaster. It is vital that you look after your own health and wellbeing while being a carer for someone else.

That means, when offers of help come, take them – and don’t feel guilty.

Also, see what support is available through your church and your local care service. And grab it with both hands.

What experience of being your partner’s carer do you have that could help others? Please tell us here or on the AfterWorkNet Facebook Group. Thank you.

Celia Bowring
Celia isn’t retired yet – although she’s recently changed from being office-based to working from home, so working out her own use of time. Celia writes the CARE Prayer Diary along with many other resources. She also chairs Pray for Schools. And loves being a hands-on grandmother!


  1. Thank you for this very helpful article – it touched on many essential areas we need to prepare ourselves for. I’m just finishing a wonderful book by Professor John Wyatt called ‘Dying Well’. It really has helped clarify many practical and theological matters that are best considered before events overtake our lives. I really recommend this book!

    1. There are still a very good number of men around – 75+ – who were required, until 1961, to undertake National Service. The discipline inculcated at the time, and with servicemen since, has imbued a sense of self sufficiency that is hard to let go. So your article is extremely relevant to the likes of us. I was 85 yesterday and over the years benefitted from the self discipline required in the army, as a senior distance athlete at county level, and as a C of E clergyman for more than 60 years. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We need prodding concerning these issues before we become intolerably, unbearably ‘difficult’! Frank – by name, and as my late wife would say ‘by nature!’

      1. Happy birthday for yesterday Frank. Those years of discipline – physical and spiritual have obviously stood you in very good stead in your ministry.
        God bless you in all you are able to carry on doing and I’m sure you are frank only in a positive way.

    2. Lovely to hear from you Ian and thank you for your comment. Lyndon and I have been reading John Wyatt’s book too and also thoroughly recommend it.

  2. Thank you for this article which was really helpful. When I was 59 I met my husband. 16 months later in Feb 2017 we got married. At the beginning of April he had a stroke where he has permanent weakness on his left side. The side effects of the stroke which has included developing epilepsy are mostly hidden to others but make life difficult at times. I have started a care for carers group at our church which meets once a month but think putting aside time for me is something I need to do

    1. Hi Julie, so sorry to hear about your husband’s health. The idea of starting a group at church is excellent; I hope it goes from strength to strength.
      Please don’t let the thought of putting aside time for yourself fade away under the pressures of looking after your husband. May God bless you and provide all you need (including fun!) day by day.

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife