The Meaning and Purpose of Caregiving
In my last Sharepost about developing caregiver resilience I stressed the benefits of developing resilience and the fact this is a skill that can be learned. Thinking more about the issues it occurs to me we can look at resilience from a different angle and in fact extend the issue into something broader which we might think of as meaning and purpose.
A life without meaning lacks purpose and I suppose a potential danger of long-term caregiving is a sense that your life, and perhaps what we might think of as your best years, is being put on hold or even sacrificed for another person. Tension exists in our lives when we feel our goals are being thwarted or frustrated in some fashion. But most lives, whether involved in caregiving or not, involve a fairly hefty element of frustration yet may be less helpful and less purposeful than what you do as a caregiver. And keep in mind that being the caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's is not a life sentence. The early to mid stages can be fully rewarding and even late stage Alzheimer's, though more challenging, isn't without its rewards.
Just for a moment imagine fast-forwarding to the end of your life. Thinking back, would you consider caregiving a personal accomplishment and strength? Is this something you could look back on with satisfaction and something you were happy enough to talk about? I think I could. For me at least I think I could look back on this part of my life and be proud that I did what I could to the best of my ability.
I know that thinking about the meaning of life may seem like so much navel-gazing or be too abstract for some but I think it does no harm, and probably does a lot of good. I think we all have to feel we've made a difference and that our time on the planet has been about giving as much as taking. This, in large part, is informed from our own perspectives. For example, do you view caregiving simply as a labor that has to be done because there is only you to do it? Well, it may be true, but think about it differently and it becomes less of a burden. Might it not be possible to consider caregiving as rewarding, helpful and fulfilling? I suppose this takes caregiving into the realm of a calling. A calling is something we do because it's the right thing to do. It may not come with promotions or extra money, but it's right for us as human beings.
Meaning isn't something we can find on a shelf. It's an intensely personal thing that provides each of us with a sense of purpose and direction. Because of this we can attain meaning in a number of different ways and by walking our own paths. Meaning in life as a caregiver is just one facet of life but interpreting it as something positive gives us a sense of purpose and provides the foundation many caregiver's need to become more resilient.