Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Family Caregiver’s Resolution

2009No matter what your year was like we get, by benefit of the modern calendar, to turn the page and start fresh in the new year.

As a family caregiver it may be hard to tell day from night, let alone pause to mark the passing of one year and the start of the next.

But here’s the challenge I’d like to make to every family caregiver for the year to come:

Find a way to make caregiving joyful.

“Ha,” you say. “Caregiving is a tough job. There’s little to be joyful in it.”

It is a tough job, no doubt about it.

My brother-in-law’s father, recovering from heart surgery, has become so ornery that none of his sons can stand to be around him. They still dutifully shop for his groceries and offer to drive him wherever he needs to go. When he couldn’t live alone, they arranged for an out-of-work nephew to stay with him for a few weeks. He’s their dad, and they have a responsibility to be involved in caregiving, no matter how challenging it is.

But I give them kudos for not trying to move dad in with one of them. Instead, they found a family member who needed the work and who, by his emotional distance, wasn’t so personally affected by dad’s behavior as the sons are.

Here’s what I encourage you to do in the year ahead:

FIRST: Remember the reason you’re involved in caregiving. It’s undoubtedly because of a relationship. You’re a son, a daughter, a spouse or a significant person in the life of the person you’re providing care to. You didn’t have to become a caregiver, so why did you step into that role in the first place?

SECOND: Imagine the “perfect world” scenario. Just finish the sentence, “In a perfect world…” In a perfect world, your loved one wouldn’t need care; he or she would be perfectly independent and healthy. But setting that aside, in a perfect world, what would your relationship as a caregiver look like?

“She’d say thank-you more often.”

“He’d actually laugh at my feeble attempts at a joke.”

“She’d recognize me and remember our happier times.”

Notice that each of these endings focus on what the person you’re caring for would do? None of them focus on things that YOU can do.

Let’s take it a step farther: what would YOUR actions be, in a perfect world?

“I’d come in with a smile every day, rested and relaxed.”

“I’d bring small gifts – fresh flowers, home-baked muffins or a new book or magazine, each time I visited.”

“I’d be happy to be providing care instead of feeling resentful and frustrated so much of the time.”

NEXT: Think about the steps you need to take to achieve those last statements – the ones about yourself.

“I’d come in with a smile every day, rested and relaxed.” – what would that take? Do you need to get a caregiver to relieve you every few days so you can take guilt-free breaks from caregiving? If so, what do you need to do to make that happen?

Actually, all of the statements that caregivers make above depend on one thing: getting a break.
That leads us to the FINAL step: Pursue the break you need, so that you can regain the quality of the relationship. Find a way to make the relationship you have with the person in your care once again joyful.

It won’t be easy. It might be expensive – in time, emotion or money. But make this your goal for the New Year, and see what amazing things you can accomplish.

Share your goals and resolutions.

1 comment:

Linda said...

What a great post. Those are great suggestions. I took care of my aunt for 8 months until she died of breast cancer. I never noticed the bad parts until I had to talk to others who were spending time with her and comparing the pre-deadly cancer person to the more negative, less joyous person. As hard as it was, I do not regret those 8 months. I know I made her life much easier than it could have been. But I know so many caregivers and soon to be caregivers that don't put joy into the process. It is difficult. But otherwise, it will eat you up. I think too it depends on your previous relationship with your parents.