“In the sunset of my father’s life, he allowed me to accompany him. . . to be his caregiver. Through this journey we, ‘real men’, were able to share emotions and relate to each other during a transition from father and son to companions on Checcino’s final mile to eternity.”
This complex thought is simple. As William Butler Yeats once wrote: “The journey internally is not only an important journey, it is the only journey.” In caring for others, we need to allow ourselves balance and time to renew our own spirit.
The number of households involved in caregiving is expected to increase due to the increase in longevity. A “Fortune 200” article explained: “Extended life span does not mean people stay young longer. It means people stay old longer. The ‘Golden Years’ are lasting longer and losing a lot of their shining potential.”
Caregiving is often thrust upon the family member who is geographically closest to the person needing care. Love and obligation are other factors in the decision. Someone needs to accept responsibility to assist the elderly with the necessary choices. It would be great if there were a group of family or friends to share the caregiving, but it often is one person who accepts the major obligation. It can be a fulfilling but stressful situation.
Caregivers in general do not get consistent help from family members, although family input is important. Illness can bring about reconciliation, healing and a realization of what is truly meaningful. We hope for that ideal, but perhaps it is improbable.
What to Expect
Don’t expect an instant attitude change from everyone. Each person handles aging and death in their own way. Some people can’t deal with the situation at all, but may be able to offer different types of support.
In my own case, my sister Donamari lived out of town and was suffering from multiple sclerosis. She was very emotional about not being in closer proximity to Dad and the rest of the family, but her frequent calls, e-mail messages and occasional visits were a great comfort.
We may not have all our family near physically when we need them, but in this era of modem technology most families can remain close through the phone and computers…they can always be near us.
My brother Maurice and wife Dianne would bring cheer to Dad by sharing his craving for junk food . . . often arriving with a breakfast sandwich for each of them.. .or indulging Dad with hamburgers and fries… why not?
Although Dianne spent time making home-made treats for Dad, I think his favorite was the salty, fat-filled, fast foods. They all enjoyed the time together and this too brought comfort and connection.
Help Is Available
Depression is common in both the caregiver and the receiver. Over 49% of caregivers have experienced prolonged depression. Caregiving is an emotional roller coaster ride. Just remember, help is available.. .ask.
There is external and internal pressure in the care process along with doubt and worry. It is not wrong to feel this way…it just needs to be dealt with.
Tension is inevitable and it is not unusual to be overwhelmed. The gut speaks.. .at times the knot in my stomach. .. the lump in my throat and tears in my eyes were dominant…but I knew I had to go on…one step at a time…gathering the best of each day for tomorrow’s memories.
This particular voyage through time is dappled with the unexpected. There are moments that vibrate with deep feelings and many others of monotony and melancholy. Ironically, all are intervals that define life.
A Matter of Balances
Caregiving must be a balance of the needs and peace of mind for all generations involved in the extended care process.
For some of us, when the need arises, caregiving can become our purpose in life. It is a profound responsibility that demands we honor the needs of all involved.
Balancing this need with autonomy for the individual is a delicate process. The aging person should be assisted in making choices about where to live and the level of care that is required.. .not just told what is going to occur. It is imperative that the voice of the cared for be heard.
At your home or in a professional facility the cared for person should have a say in their meals, schedules, and social involvement… .for as long as possible. All this, of course, is dependent on the cognitive functioning level of the individual. My dad was mentally with us for all the major decisions.. .and it should have eased the weight on my heart.. .but that was an unrealistic expectation.
Spending the last days of mortality with my dad freed me from my self-imposed, absolutely structured life. I found it possible to change, and learn. Life is what is important, not the “stuff” that clouds our vision of the truth.
Therapy and Respite for Caregivers
Take advantage of therapy and respite time for caregivers. Remember, if the caregiver gets ill, burned out: depressed, sad, angry or runs away to escape… it will leave another need. All or some of these reactions are possibilities… and are common occurrences. The wish to escape to any destination is a normal consideration at times and should not promote guilt.
This is all part of the frustration package. The caregiver must deal with not being able to “fix everything” or do everything. Try to respect destiny and make passing easier for the one reaching the Final Portal.
Exercise, maintain a good diet, save some time for a few moments of quiet personal pursuits. Support groups are also a good venue for caregivers. Sharing makes the travails easier to bear. There is help in the community. . . take time to find it.
It is okay to be afraid. For most of us death is a voyage into the unknown and a long separation is inevitable. It is okay to show emotion. Grief and relief often mix with profound sorrow. . . but the living must live. There is life for the caregiver after the death of the loved one.
We are all headed in the same direction . . . how will you wish to be cared for?