The Caregiver’s Journey: Caring for Those Who Cared for Us
Helen didn’t begin life as a caregiver. Her mother cared for her. It wasn’t until Helen reached adulthood, and her mother became ill, that she assumed this role. Her mother needed help and it fell to Helen to provide it.
Everyone becomes a caregiver one way or another at some point in our lives: sometimes it’s by choice, sometimes it’s because we’re the best suited to deal with a family situation, and sometimes caregiving is an obligation, absorbed because “there is no one else to do it”.
It helps if it’s voluntary and we love the person we’re caring for – like Helen – but the pressures are the same. The caregiver’s life is altered for the benefit of another.
What does it mean to become a caregiver? It means giving a loved one the care and support he or she requires when a need presents itself. Caregiving can consist of small gestures like a word of encouragement, advice on a problem or helping a neighbor with carrying groceries. For many, however, caregiving requires much more sacrifice – emotional support, help with personal care and managing medical issues. The “super caregiver” may need to put his or her life “on hold” for a loved one because the need is so great.
While connecting with loved ones at their most vulnerable state can be very special and satisfying, it is not without considerable stress – especially if the loved one’s illness is of a long and/or painful duration. For Helen, it meant suspending her career and social life while she cared for her mother. Helen did not leave the house except for short intervals. Working, even part time, was not an option. There was no family network to provide relief.
Over time, lack of rest and loss of appetite took its toll on Helen. Angst percolated to the surface along with resentment. Isolation had created problems for both Helen and her mother. It was not until her physician alerted Helen to the necessity of taking care of herself that she started to make some changes in her daily schedule.
First, Helen set up a help network. Whereas Helen had been reticent to ask for assistance before, she found that neighbors and friends were willing to support her. Considerable planning was needed and Helen had to be specific with her requests. In the end, however, her mother received the care and companionship she needed and Helen gained some free time for herself. Making sure that she set time aside for exercise and maintaining a proper diet helped immeasurably. Restless sleep persisted, but became less troublesome after making diet and exercise changes.
Helen located some caregiving support groups and quickly learned that her experience was not unique. Talking to others about how she felt and learning better ways to cope with her mother’s illness helped her immensely. She found supportive websites and blogs.
Helen made great discoveries as a caregiver: she shared her feelings with her mother and, in the process, they discovered wonderfully unique individuals in each other. Meditation techniques, learned from her support group friends, were very helpful in maintaining positive feelings and peace of mind.
Helen began to journal and blog about her experiences and discovered that she enjoyed writing very much. She noted in her journal that life has an amazing way of taking us just where we need to be.
If anything is to be learned from Helen’s story, it is that caregiving comes in many different forms. Caring for those who cared for us is a part of life, and there are many opportunities to be proactive in making caregiving a better experience for everyone.
By Barbara Glass