By Carol Zernial
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director
Sometimes when we hear a speaker or read a book, the words really ring true to us. We’ll nod our heads in agreement or feel like this is how we wish everything could be. Because I have the privilege of interviewing authors and speakers who are caregiving experts for the Caregiver SOS on Air podcasts (free at www.caregiversos.org), I often have these moments of recognition. Here are some I found the most meaningful and helpful.
» Happiness is a choice we make: John Leland, journalist for The New York Times and author of the book of the same name, really hit this home for me. It was like John had joined forces with my late mother who was an original member of the “power of positive thinking” club. Choosing happiness doesn’t mean that our circumstances have changed or that everything is rosy. It means that we can let go of the negative emotions that swamp us and drag us down. We can do this through gratitude, curiosity, faith, or even sheer willpower. John indicates that it gets easier the more we practice. After all, we can’t really change anybody except ourselves.
» Share the care — organize a group to provide care: Sheila Warnock made me wonder how I had missed creating, not a support group, but a group of people to provide care. So many caregivers go it alone or with a family member or two. Through her book, she describes how two caring people can set up teams to break down caregiving tasks into doable bites that prevent any one caregiver from burning out. A “funny family” is a larger group of family, friends, willing colleagues, etc., who provide different aspects of care over time. The teams can be mobilized for a variety of situations – from a serious illness to a difficult pregnancy.
» Let the professional be the bad guy: Our friend and psychologist, Dr. Jamie Huysman, is a strong voice for letting licensed professionals, such as professional geriatric care managers, physicians, first responders, and psychologists, deliver any difficult news – like when it’s time to give up the car keys. We know what happens to the messenger, right? This allows us as the family member or friend to be there to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and provide the love and comfort. There are times when professional assistance is worth the investment.
» We are not right or up because we are well, and those who are sick are not down or wrong: I have never had the pleasure of interviewing author Deborah Duda, but her words changed my thinking about illness and death. We allow way too much judgement to get wrapped around caregiving, sickness, and dying. We sometimes forget that illness and death are simply a part of life. It’s refreshing that we have started talking about living with Alzheimer’s, living with cancer, living with disability. This allows us and the person for whom we care caring to be actively engaged in life, and prevents the isolation that traps caregivers and their loved ones.
It is easy these days to feel like we have information overload. It can be hard to tune out the voices in our heads or on the news, and hear words of hope, healing, acceptance and life. We have to be willing to hear them, and willing to change our thinking. Change can be a challenge, so we can’t be discouraged if we fall off the horse or have to try again. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel better, to let go of the anger and resentment, to make positive choices, and to feel alive, too? It sounds like good advice.
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and emeritus Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at www.CaregiverSOS.org or toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.