For many of us, caregiving is a privilege and an honor. We run into the burning building to save the person who would have done the same for us many years ago when we were younger. Our parents, our grandparents, aunts, uncles and spouses are not just a part of our lives – they are part of our lifeblood. We are family.
Family caregivers bolstered by faith, bonded by family, and acting in love are possibly the hardest to reach of all caregivers. They are the last to accept help. We don’t really believe we need personal space or have time to take care of ourselves. We’re doing what we’re supposed to do.
Our good friend, noted psychologist Dr. Jamie Huysman, talks about the legs of the caregiving stool: emotional, physical and spiritual support. We can only be effective caregivers when we are in balance. If we don’t have enough of any of these supports, we are off balance. Worse, our loved one can feel it – and they feel off balance too. Have you ever had your child or your pet avoid you or leave the room, because you were upset about something? Even if your emotions weren’t directed at them, they knew something was wrong.
If we care for our loved one simply because we are family and caring for one another is in our DNA, then it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. It is our responsibility to ensure that we get the help we need so that we can continue caring for our loved one. Otherwise, we run the risk of being forced to place our loved one in another setting outside the family. And giving up on our responsibility is not part of our family culture.
Wouldn’t we like to better understand how to safely transfer our loved one from the bed to the chair, or to give them a bath? Wouldn’t it be helpful to know which legal documents we need to take care of financial issues and health care decisions? Wouldn’t we like to know what comes next in this disease so we know what to expect and can be ready? Wouldn’t it be nice to feel good about another day caring for our loved one instead of feeling tired, angry, or depressed? There’s always room for improvement. Four hands and two heads are better than one.
The famous song goes,” All we need is love.” And yes, love goes a long, long way. But even the strongest love can be worn down by adversity and difficult times. Let’s love our family members enough to do the right thing for them, and that means getting the right kind of help for us. Let’s think about the kind of help we would want our loved ones to have if they were in our position – if they were our caregiver. After all, we’re family.
Carol Zernial is Executive Director of the non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation. A noted gerontologist, Ms. Zernial also serves as Chair of the National Council on Aging Board of Directors.