When I look back on the letters we received in 2013 and the comments readers have shared, I am reminded again that caregiving must be one of the most challenging jobs on earth. There are many reasons. One of the biggies is that we are often not prepared. Fire fighters, soldiers, police officers, surgeons, emergency medical teams, couriers, nurses: these and many other professionals have challenging, stressful jobs. But, unlike most caregivers, they receive extensive training to help prepare them for the challenges they face day-to-day. It’s not the same for most caregivers. Suddenly, or with little warning, life hands us experiences that we’re not always prepared for. Not only is the work physically and emotionally demanding, it’s also complicated by the effects of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and by family dynamics.
The big myth is that somehow we should know how to cope. Not true! In addition to not knowing the ins and outs of caring for someone with particular needs, and often new and unsettling behaviors, many caregivers also may feel denial. “This shouldn’t be happening to me!” Someone I know just got through a difficult change in employment and a messy divorce when her mom’s dementia changed everything. “This was supposed to be my time!” she cried as she made arrangements for her mom to come live with her, and struggled to find suitable home care. There is nothing wrong with feelings these emotions. It’s extremely common to feel overwhelmed.
And that’s why we need support. Caregiving is not a sprint, it’s a marathon—days, weeks, and often years of hard work. It can be richly rewarding, filling us with a sense of giving back. It can bring a parent and caregiver closer together. And it can also be a really tough slog. You may have moments where you feel frustrated, content, angry, hurt, happy, resentful, and exhausted—all before breakfast! Surprisingly, it is often these experiences, not all of which feel good in the moment, that end up having a positive impact—providing us with a richer sense of ourselves, and helping us to experience life in a whole new way.
Even in the midst of difficulty, there are there are moments. Your mother suddenly smiles. Together, you recall a meaningful event from the past. You make a connection. In 2014, make a conscious effort to really feel these moments of beauty when they happen. Cherish them. Let them nourish you. And look for moments where you can make a connection and have a laugh.
Know that, when you feel overwhelmed, you are not alone. Millions of caregivers are feeling what you feel. Acknowledge your feelings and then take action. Reach out for support. Join a support group. Get advice about the resources in your municipality. Grow your network of friends whom you can call on.
On this first day of 2014, I send you determination to actively seek out sources of hope, courage, fulfillment, peaceful rest, beauty, and laughter. Happy New Year!
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