Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Gifts of Caregiving... Making Connections

Those of you in the trenches can certainly agree with authors Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, M.D., that caregiving your loved one often feels like The 36-Hour Day. We’ve all experienced those burdensome duties—but what about the gains? That is, the opportunities and gifts that caregiving can provide?

Opening yourself to possibilities reveals three bountiful rewards of caregiving: making connections with family and friends, reaching out into the community for greater support and, so very important, connecting with yourself—by entering into an entirely new dimension that reveals your strengths and capabilities.

Caregiving offers an opportunity for reinvigorating your family and continuing the circle of life. This provides a unique chance to rebuild family relationships and heal old wounds.  As family members come together in crisis and care, we lighten our own load, and create deeper connections with those we love.

Community connections turn out to be more than running to the movies or the grocery store. Your community offers a wealth of resources that can assist you and your loved one, including caregiver support groups, Adult Day Health programs and local education courses to enhance your caregiver skills.

As you deepen your commitment to serve your loved one you are moving beyond your old limits to embrace empathy, sacrifice and compassion as a way of life. Caregiving is service that feeds the soul and liberates the mind. You are best equipped for this dimension by developing self-care practices:  eating well, exercising regularly, taking time out and recognizing your special contributions.

Caregiving as a priceless opportunity can be yours. Try serving from your inner place of strength, abundance and wholeness.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Understanding the Differences in Caregiving

If you're like me, you thought taking care of your aging loved one would be much like caring for your children. I had raised 6 children and thought, "How hard could it be?" I couldn't have been more wrong.

Child care and  long-term adult care are two very different species.

Children are a central focus of most social groups, and for many of us, sharing information about the “stages,” problems, joys and stresses of childhood and adolescence with our friends (and even strangers) is a common experience. If we're in doubt about a child’s behavior, we can tune in to Dr. Phil or pick up a favorite magazine or self-help book.

Where do you turn when you can't figure out why your older sister is so confused? And, have you already noticed that few friends want to discuss your mother's Alzheimer's or your husband's Parkinson's disease?

When you have small children, family members often can't wait to babysit, or help out in some way, can they? Your parents relish the opportunity to enjoy the kids, rekindling the warmth and love that sustained them while they raised you and your siblings. Your brothers and sisters get involved, too—playing ball enthusiastically or going on outings together.  Looking after littles ones isn't only emotionally satisfying and fun, but it allows us to be playful and feel “young again.” We may even be able to relive our own childhoods, if only for a few, fleeting moments.

By no stretch of the imagination can we say that long-term adult care is “fun,” nor can you simply turn over caregiving to peripheral relatives, casual friends or helpful neighbors. The demands of care are frequently too exacting or difficult. Your grandmother needs assistance using the toilet, while your grandfather needs help with the morning routine of washing, dressing, shaving and hair combing. Both require medications to be dispensed at different intervals. And, talk about complicated when you add dementia and depression into the mix.

Healthy children follow an upward track: growth and development over time is inspiring to behold. Each of our children has his or her own special destiny, and we strive to promote the best attributes of our offspring: first steps, first words, first day of school, graduation and good job. We can look look forward to our children marrying and having families of their own. Typically, we know what to expect.

None of these positive conditions prevail for long-term adult care or for parents whose children have terminal illnesses. Here, the spiral slopes downward and out. Sadly, it's only a matter of time before your loved one is gone.

You know where the road ends for him or her. But I'm here to tell you that there is much for you to gain along this journey we call caregiving.