“Some days you are the pigeon…some days the statue.” I laugh every time I see this meme which my sister Marcia helped design. It often fit the emotions I had as a caregiver. Many times I was feeling good about the interventions I made on behalf of Mom. Other times I felt like the statue heaped in pigeon poop. Regardless, all caregivers are heroes in my eyes!
The Oxford Dictionary defines “hero” as a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Let’s take a closer look at how caregiving for our loved ones is an admirable and courageous role.
Is caregiving a calling, a vocation, a choice, an honor, a duty to assume? No matter how you arrived at this point, it is important to stop from time-to-time and analyze your caregiving responsibility. You don’t usually get a chance to rehearse for this role.
Caregiving encompasses such a variety of situations and experiences—from caring for a loved one in your home or theirs, caring from a distance, or when they are in an institutional setting. No matter the setting, it includes attending to your loved one’s emotional well-being and physical health, sometimes at great personal sacrifice.
Multiple Roles and Skills
If I had to write a “job” description for an unpaid caregiver, I would find it very difficult. Caregiving involves multiple roles and skills. I would have to include such roles as: legal and health advocate, communicator, teacher, medication monitor, driver, companion, financial manager, nurse, organizer, food preparer, crisis planner, to name a few. These roles likely change and evolve as the disease progresses.
Caregiving will change you. You can learn and experience compassion by being exposed to pain and suffering in your loved one. Caregiving can also make you resentful, angry, and downright exhausted and overwhelmed at times. Feeling powerless is an easy trap to fall into when you feel “stuck” in the caregiver role. How you feel about what you are doing can either cause stress for you or become one of the most gratifying experiences in your life.
Author, teacher and spiritual leader Parker Palmer puts it this way, “The ancient human question, ‘Who am I?’ leads inevitably to the equally important question, ‘Whose am I?,’ for there is no self outside of relationship.” He goes on to write: “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Listening to what your life is telling you at the point in your life when you become a caregiver involves understanding what are the truths and values at the heart of your identity. Your motivations can help sustain you when things become difficult in your caregiver role. Take an inventory of what you’re really doing and be realistic.
- Does your role as a caregiver give you a sense of fulfillment, and provide meaning and purpose to your life?
- Why do you do what you do?
- What unique talents, strengths, and qualities do you bring to the caregiving role?
- What has been the underlying strength that has sustained you?
- What activities are life-giving to you?
- What do you want to let go of, and what do you want to give yourself to?
- If you don’t have the caregiving attributes that you would like, can you find a way to develop them?
The very essence of being human is feeling like we have a purpose in life. The American existential psychologist Rollo May wrote a book, Man’s Search for Himself. He writes, “A man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day. These decisions require courage. Courage is the virtue of maturity.”
Our culture, family members, and friends may not value what you are doing. They may begin to take you for granted. It is difficult at times to imagine that what you are doing as a caregiver is making a difference. But, believe me, it is!
If you’re having a bad day, think of all the good you have done and are doing. Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Clean up the poop, and do the best you can. You don’t have to give up your life to be a caregiver. Believe in yourself. Take care of yourself. Find a supportive network. Acknowledge and embrace your liabilities and limitations, but also your strengths and talents.
Let the words of essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson spur you on at the end of each day:
“Finish each day and be done with it,
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day,
You shall begin it well and serenely.”
Thank you for the gift of your courageous caregiving spirit! I wish you peace, patience, and joy in your caregiving today and every day!
~ ~ ~
Lyda Arevalo-Flechos, PhD, MSN, RN is a researcher studying Latino-Hispanic caregivers’ perception of the experience of caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s Watch this 10-minute TED talk, “All Alzheimer’s Caregivers Are Not Created Equal:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QYdXGZNp5A.
~ ~ ~
Check out the Alzheimer’s Association’s online Community Resource Finder to find dementia care resources in your area: https://alz.org/CRF.