Maybe you don’t. Who decides whether you are a Caregiver? I’ve spoken to so many people caring and worrying about their aging frail parents who say, “But I’m not a caregiver. Mom doesn’t live with me”. Yet, they worry about their Mom, they are the ones who are called in the night for emergencies, they have to make care decisions, financial decisions or just deciding to decide. They feel guilty when they don’t visit. They feel guilty when they do visit. Yet, they don’t want to call themselves caregivers.
Who are you?
Just because you are not changing the bedding, doling out the meds and dealing with bodily fluids doesn’t mean that you are not a caregiver. There are long distance caregivers, next door caregivers, on line caregivers, resentful caregivers, blessed caregivers, even happy caregivers – just as many kinds as there are people. Somehow this label of caregiver has been one that people avoid or don’t feel worthy. If Mom is in assisted living and you visit frequently (maybe everyday) and make sure that she is eating and that her laundry is fresh and that she is safe and well – you are her caregiver. If you stop by Dad’s house to be sure that there are no science experiments growing in the fridge and that he doesn’t try to climb up on the roof to fix a leak or just to chat – you are a caregiver.
I didn’t have a clue
When my mom had a stroke and couldn’t live in her condo any longer, she moved in with our family. I didn’t think about being her caregiver, I just knew that I loved her and that we had a spare bedroom on the first floor, and it made sense. The first six years were good. She recovered from the stroke and was pretty much herself again. She enjoyed the busy household with dogs and kids. Her last two years were the hardest of my life. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I learned and found great support from a variety of professionals, after I spent far too long on my own trying to figure out what to do, what was normal and what I couldn’t handle any more.
Help is nearer than you think
The biggest lesson I learned from my years as my mother’s caregiver is that the sense of isolation I felt wasn’t necessary. When my kids were little, I learned so much from other mothers and friends. We often talked about the challenges of potty training, thumb sucking and lack of sleep. But when you are caring for a fragile 85-year-old, who do you ask about disposable underwear? Even though I had a houseful, I often felt so alone and so frightened. The best advice I can give to any caregiver is to seek out community. Find others who are in the same boat and talk with them, ask questions, share resources. In person is best, but it’s often not possible. The telephone can be your lifeline and so can on-line support groups. Help is literally at your fingertips.
You are not alone
No matter what kind of caregiver you are – whether you identify yourself as one or not. Caring for aging parents, a spouse with life limiting illness, a child with special needs, a wounded veteran, a family member with mental illness all qualify you to consider yourself a caregiver. You are a hero. But you don’t have to do it alone. Take care of yourself or you won’t be able to care for anyone. And remember to Take a Break, Before You Break.