Halos for Caregivers

Jan Fowler

is author of the best-selling book, “Hot Chocolate for Seniors”(winner of national & international awards); winner of Gold Halo Award from the So. California Motion Picture Council for Outstanding Literary Achievement; winner of First Place Excellence in Journalism Award (SPJ –Southern CA); Town & Gown “Phenomenal Woman” Award; former television host & KSPA radio host of “Senior Living at its Best with Jan Fowler”; speaker, contributing author for “Savvy Women Revving Up for Success”; founder of Starburst Inspirations, Inc. 501(c) (3) nonprofit which supports Redlands Drug Court. www.janfowler.com. Jan welcomes feedback and comments about her columns and invites you to leave her a message on her website.

Halos for Caregivers

“Compassion is the basis of all morality.”  Arthur Schopenhauer

Do others perceive you in a glorified exalted way as someone who is a cross between an angel and a saint?  Are you often impressed by your own endurance, patience or strength, which you did not realize you possessed?  Do family and friends express amazement and awe over your selfless ability to place the needs of someone suffering poor health over your own?  If such is the case, do you feel that no matter how emotionally exhausted, tired, or drained you are, you are nevertheless compelled to oversee that person’s well-being because of an indescribable sense of love, loyalty, ethics, or duty?

If the above describes you, you may be among the most compassionate heroes of humanity in society today–one of our nation’s millions of caregivers!

Having been a caregiver a time or two myself; I personally applaud any and all of you for your hard work and gentle compassion.  Halos to you, along with loving hugs, abundant praise, and more jewels for your already-glowing crown–Windex probably couldn’t make it shine more!

Though caregiving is not always a joyride, it nevertheless carries nobility.  For despite its inherent demands–heavy, thankless, and troubling as they may be at times–it also yields a supreme measure of unmatched joys and rewards.  Fulfillment comes from being of value to someone who needs us – true?  Therefore, it’s a privilege when we can serve others.

“You try to give away what you want yourself.”  Lois McMaster Bujold.

We all know about the coalition to extend life.  Hence, as population ages, life expectancy also increases.  But did you know that a growing number of infirmed seniors are now receiving care at home rather than in skilled nursing facilities?  Which means that family members are shouldering most of this long-term care.  Of course, situations vary and may range from assisting someone with short-term recovery–such as recuperation from illness, treatment or surgery–to all-consuming around-the-clock total care.  But even short-term care can be stressful.  Patients who are not feeling well can sometimes be hostile.  Caregivers who don’t feel appreciated can also be hostile.

Certainly there are instances in which an elderly loved one may merely need telephone supervision just to be sure they remembered to eat dinner or take medications.  In others, however, the responsibility may not only include giving all medications directly, but transporting them to medical appointments for exams, treatment, and lab work, often with wheelchair safety or walker mobility of primary concern.

For homebound or bedbound patients, the family is often consumed by the full responsibility of meeting daily hygiene and nutrition needs, coordinating a variety of support services, and monitoring the use of such lifesaving equipment as oxygen.   All the while providing the patient with needed encouragement, smiles, or pep talks to boost morale!

Until we find a cure for aging, there are perhaps a few things with which we could reflect on.

Typically, most caregivers experience joy, sorrow, and some measure of loneliness.   Joy for what they can do to ease the patient’s discomfort, sorrow for what they can’t accomplish because of factors beyond their control, and loneliness from the sheer weight of worry.  So if you’ve taken on such a responsibility, stay firm in your resolve to do the very best you can under the circumstances, but try to accept whatever it is that you cannot force or change.  There is only so far you can go.

And whereas we generally expect to look after ailing parents, sadly, we’re also aware of instances when parents unexpectantly face responsibility for an adult child who’s recovering from prolonged illness, treatment, or catastrophic battle with terminal disease.  And if there are dependent children in the home, they become caretaker-guardians for them as well.  Such “grandparents-turned-parents” need extra special doses of love, cards, calls, or favors from us, don’t you think?

Practical guidance for caregivers: Accept offers of help from others, including minor repairs, which tend to build up around the house.  Install soft non-glare lights (they’re easier on the nerves), remove dangerous throw rugs to prevent slipping, and play soothing music which you feel the sick person might enjoy, bearing in mind that the ability to hear is one of the last things to go.  Also, try to be sure that the infirmed individual has a will and durable power of attorney in place.

I’m told that an invaluable time-saver is to call the office before driving a sick or elderly person to an appointment to see if the doctor is running late.  No sense sitting in the waiting room when you might otherwise use that time more profitably, such as keeping up with laundry.  Every minute counts, especially if you also hold down a job.  And do lighten up on yourself for the things that you must let slide.  It’s absolutely impossible to stay on top of everything all at the same time.  Whether you can or can’t, either way you need a break because it’s important to preserve a sense of yourself!

The extended day-to-day care of another’s physical needs may rapidly take its toll by depleting us of physical and emotional strength, not to mention financial resources.  Caregivers need care too.  Among the many helpful resources available for them is Karen L. Twichell’s “A Caregiver’s Journey” a handy booklet endorsed by Jack Canfield (co-author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul”).  For more information, visit www.caregiversjourney.com.

There are things outsiders can do for caregivers to show support and ease their burden.  One might consider the option of delivering a prepared meal, run an errand, or maybe sit with the infirmed for an hour, allowing the caregiver time to run out for a manicure.  Above all, be a willing listener.  That means talking about what they want to discuss.  Convey your empathy and interest, but without negating what they feel.  So if they feel guilt or fear, allow them to express these emotions openly.   Be cautious with your advice unless asked.  Mostly listen.  This may be the biggest help of all!

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