Intertwining the Role of Partner and Caregiver: a Phenomenological Study of the Experiences of Four New Zealand Rural Women Who have Cared for Their Terminally Ill Partners
The stories of the women who live and work in rural settings in New Zealand have begun to reveal unique contributions that they have made to their families and community. Meeting with and listening to rural women's stories reveals insights into the character of these powerful women. This research study evolved from a trend the researcher observed as a district nurse providing community palliative care in rural New Zealand; that the majority of carers of those who are terminally in home-settings are in fact women. This qualitative study aimed to explore through guided conversational interviews the experiences of four New Zealand women who have cared for their terminally ill partners who have subsequently died. The study investigated if these women's experiences were comparable to that of other women in existing palliative care literature. This research project focused particularly on elucidating the women's experience of intertwining the role of partner and caregiver. Heidegger's hermeneutic philosophy informed the methodology because he focused on what it meant to 'be' rather than 'how we know what we know'. The project focused on the meanings the women made of this dual role in their lives. Women already in the role of partner were now faced with the added responsibility of caregiver to meet the complex needs of their loved one. Usually they had no training to prepare them for this experience. The study reveals ways in which the visiting palliative care nurse becomes very important to them. The women's own voices reveal the high level of respect for their partners and address the harsh realities, revealing poignant and striking concerns in their lives. These stories are shared with the intent of enriching nurses' and other health professionals' understanding of the women's experiences. The intention of the study is to highlight the need for closer attention by nurses to women's requirements when caring for their partner at home. Understanding these women's experience is not only a way of honouring these remarkable women but more widely it will inform and possibly transform practice through guideline and policy refinement.