Aging Well

"I can't go on. I'll go on": Caregiving in the Age of Coronavirus

Spouses caring for loved ones at home is challenging under the best of circumstances. Under quarantine due to coronavirus, the challenges are compounded.

Posted Updated
Caregiving during the coronavirus
Liisa Ogburn

Samuel Beckett wrote this in his book, The Unnameable, and it is a notion that anyone experiencing this pandemic—but especially caregivers—can relate to.

Yesterday, for the third time this week, I was informed that a client I was working with would not be able to move into a community as planned due to coronavirus. In one case, the Assisted Living community had just diagnosed its first case and was shutting down to all new admissions until the virus was decisively eradicated. (They anticipated a 60-day delay). In a second case occurring in a large Skilled Nursing Facility, because there were two active cases of corona among residents, they had moved all residents who were sharing rooms into private rooms to contain the spread. Consequently, they had no idea when they could accept new admissions. In a third case, in a memory care facility, they had had no cases yet and were being infinitely conservative about reopening up to new admissions in an effort to protect current residents. (To see the most up-to-date data on cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes or residential care facilities, visit:

In all three cases, the caregiving spouses, who had been living in quarantine for over three months, forgoing any outings or external help, were close to “the edge.” Was this the breaking point?

Perhaps yes and no.

A caregiver, whatever their circumstances, likely feels they have reached their limit multiple times in any given day.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

With no alternative, how does one move from “I can’t go on.” To “I’ll go on.”?

There are a host of things that don’t help, like feeding negative emotions, drinking, running away, or focusing on the things that are beyond their control.

However, there may be some surprisingly simple things that can help. Other caregivers have mentioned taking a walk around the block while their spouse is sleeping, calling an adult child or close friend, logging onto an online support group—Dementia Alliance NC hosts one every Monday, calling a support line, or asking a neighbor to come for an outdoor visit with mask while distancing.

A useful question to ask is “where is there space to do something different?”

Here are additional posts on caregiving that may have some use:

When there's a pack of dogs chasing you in your dreams every night, it might be an indicator of severe caregiver burnout. It's time to care for the caregiver.

CS Lewis wrote, "One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness). One only meets each hour or moment that comes. All manner of ups and downs. Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst."

From the classics to Christianity, Buddhism to Zen, psychologists to poets to presidents, this simple truth is repeated throughout history and through the particular lens and words of individuals we have looked to for wisdom.

A daily mindfulness practice is associated with decreased anxiety and depression, improved management of chronic pain (especially for those for whom nothing else has worked), Improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, improved emotion regulation and many other benefits.

What does getting a call from Jay Leno and witnessing a man drive through a Verizon storefront up to the customer service counter have to teach us?


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