Photographs: Unsplash / Heather Storgaard
Text: Heather Storgaard
February is the month of love. This could be between partners, friends or other family members. While it's a holiday my husband and I have never made a big deal of, it's a good reminder of the need to pay attention to romantic love and take some time for romance.
Just before valentine's day last year, my father-in-law was told he had incurable cancer and approximately a year left to live. Put quite bluntly, a year left with someone is an awkward period - too long to drop everything and be with one another constantly, too short to carry on as usual. The caring responsibilities that come when someone is going to be ill for the rest of their life complicate relationships, in some ways deepening them, in others causing strain. Attempting to find the correct balance of time as a couple and making the most of the time we had left with him has proven challenging.
Reflecting upon how we've managed a balance in the last year, I've realised that we have tried to cram many years into one. Rather than one summer holiday together, we've embarked on a bit of a bucket trip list. Some of this bucket list has proven to be utterly unattainable: many of my father-in-law's drivers to the hospital are Syrian, and through talking to them about their home country, he's developed a real but sadly impossible wish to visit. Some have been relatively straightforward, like Poland, to show him a city we've loved for years, or England, to see an opera he loves. Others, however, have taken quite a lot of effort and creative thinking. For his birthday, he wanted to visit the Moorish Alhambra in Spain. I wasn't sure how we'd get him there, but with some interesting driving through streets, I'm not entirely sure cars were meant to frequent - we managed. This is a way of showing love but can also be extremely tiring, an aspect people don't see in pretty Instagram photos.
"Reflecting upon how we've managed a balance in the last year, I've realised that we have tried to cram many years into one."
Navigating day-to-day tasks and issues have also become much more challenging and time-consuming. While Denmark's high level of digitalisation is convenient for many expats, we're now seeing the downsides, as the system is highly inflexible and challenging for older people who struggle online. For example, many council services my father-in-law used to phone about are now only accessible through an online form, meaning we must do it for him. This both adds to our workload and contributes to him not feeling included.
Among all this, it's also become clear to me how important retaining a strong relationship as a couple is. This can be extremely challenging when caring for a person, coordinating support, and trying to find time to ensure you're also enjoying life. For the first few months, I felt that voicing my needs or taking time as a couple was selfish and something I had to put off until later. But honestly, people dependent on others don't benefit from you running on fumes. For this reason, I'm making sure that during 2023 we spend days like Valentine's Day, birthdays or our wedding anniversary celebrating one another as a couple in some way. After a week spent together at Christmas, my husband and I headed to Norway for a week. I spent a morning on the phone to the Hjemmepleje (home helpers) at our local council, but spent most of the break hiking and enjoying the mountainous landscapes I miss in Denmark. Will we regret not using those weekends or days off work with my father-in-law? I'm sure we'll end up pondering that question once he's gone, but deep down, I know it's right to look after ourselves and him.