A Time to Give Thanks for Gifts Learned From Being a Caregiver
We’re closing in on the last week of National Caregiving Month. And obviously, this next week is an emotionally laden one in the United States since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving, which also kicks off the beginning of the festive December holidays that so many families hold so dear.
I’ve been in a caregiving role of some sort for about a decade now. It started with my mom, who was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease around 1997 but who was slowly felled by memory loss. She moved in with me in fall 2005 and two weeks later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Because of her health care needs, we moved her to a long-term care facility where she lived until her death in 2007. My father moved near me in 2006 and due to increasing health issues, moved in with me in 2010. He doesn’t have dementia, although at times he shows some memory loss. However, for the most part, his brain is sharp; it’s the rest of his body that is being ravaged by emerging health issues.
Therefore, I’d like to share my thoughts that combine the commemoration of National Caregiving Month along with the celebration of Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season. Here goes:
- Look at caregiving as an opportunity. Sometimes I find I have to stop myself from becoming grumpy when the needs of caregiving arise suddenly when I’ve already got my life planned to over-flowing. Often those caregiving needs are actually quite small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things that I need to handle but it’s easy to let them take on a life of their own. Plus like many people, I have parents who always would state, “I don’t want to be a burden to you” so I’ve been “programmed” to think that my needs should take precedence. However, after caring for my mom, I realized that my caregiving efforts were an important way that I could show my love for her during her final years. I’ve carried that sentiment over to caring my father, who often don’t know when (or even how) to ask for help.
- Use caregiving to reframe your relationship. While my mother was always my best friend, I haven’t had the same feelings in my relationship with my dad (especially during adolescence). However, I’ve found that caregiving has given me an opportunity to learn more about him and to reframe our past relationship. I now look at my interactions with him as a chance to ask questions, to gain valuable knowledge, and to understand the person who had hopes and dreams for his life and who tried the best he could to care for his family. Was he perfect? No. Was he good enough and was his heart in the right place? My answer – which actually has changed in the past decade – is now a resounding yes.
- Be thankful! I know that sounds like a given, but it’s easy to fall back into our old familial routines and patterns. In fact, I just had a conversation with someone who will be travelling with her elderly father soon. She was commenting on how she wasn’t sure that he could make it for all the site-seeing that was planned and how the trip might not be very fun. I stopped her in mid-sentence and suggested that she reframe her thoughts to focus on the relationship, not the activities. “Enjoy the time you get to have with your father because the clock is ticking,” I cautioned. She said she knew that, but sometimes when people say that, I’m not so sure. I think we often assume that a loved one will be with us for more time than they will in reality and we take them for granted. Therefore, caregiving has taught me that it’s really important to savor every second you get to spend with loved ones, especially those who are elderly.
I hope you’ll use this upcoming week and all of December to appreciate your role as a caregiver and embrace the various life lessons that it holds for you. There's a lot to be thankful for!