One month doesn’t seem nearly enough to recognize and appreciate all that caregivers do. Everyday, they awaken to uncertainty and yet they manage to create stability where there is none. They usher in peace where it would otherwise be unwelcome. They demonstrate quiet determination, even when the odds are stacked against them, and that’s not rare. When you’re a caregiver, each day presents a new challenge to be tackled, a new skill to be learned, and another plan to be readjusted or canceled altogether.
Earlier this year, I deemed 2017 Year of the Caregiver. And then my caregiving journey ended, for now at least. So I want to frame caregiving in a way that joins two points on a spectrum. There is an active stage of caregiving, and then there is a redefining stage. Both are equally valuable stages that deserve reflection.
The Active Stage
This is the time when caregivers are glued to their smartphones, in case of an emergency call or text message. It’s also the time when they’re the most physically busy, providing transportation, administering medications, preparing meals and assisting with other activities of daily living. It can also be a frustrating time. Caregiving includes countless moments filled with anger, regret and sorrow. And these feelings are normal and valid. It’s how you choose to express them that makes the most difference to you and to your care recipient.
You must develop good time management skills. But what I think is even more important to develop are coping skills. Coping is the ability to take what’s given to you, and translate it into a digestible experience. It’s necessary that caregivers learn to cope with their role and with their situation in healthy and realistic ways. We can’t change our care recipient or their diagnosis. But we can learn to internalize our experiences in a way that transcends the situation. We can grow.
The Redefining Stage
When all is said and done, the tangible work of every caregiver comes to an end. Sometimes the end is temporary, and other times it is permanent. But it always ends. Whether your work ends because the care recipient healed, or because they died, you need to recover and redefine your role. The months and years that caregivers spend reworking their lives and multitasking changes who they are. That time doesn’t disappear because the physical journey ended.
The redefining stage is all about how the caregiver chooses to process their experience and make meaning of it. It’s a time for rest, respite and therapy in the forms of self care and clinical care. It’s a time to sit in the slush of regret, and then to reflect and realize their full potential in those moments. Caregivers can be very hard on themselves during this time. But it’s important to understand that caregiving gnaws at all of the senses and sensibilities. It is not about perfection. It is not about winning. It is not about saving someone who can’t be saved, or who doesn’t want to be saved. It is about choosing to sacrifice in order to provide comfort, care and love for someone else who may or may not appreciate the effort.
It’s about doing the right thing. And millions of people are doing the right thing every day that they choose to continue along the journey. This November I encourage you to celebrate a caregiver, even if that caregiver is you. Then do it again next month. And the month after that. Caregivers need tangible, ongoing support for the duration of their journey. And after.
To all of the caregivers,
Thank you, and I am thankful for you.