In October of 2008, my dad had a stroke. It was devastating for him. He was a very active person. In fact, at the time he had the stroke, he was 86 years old and playing golf! It was the beginning of a difficult time for our entire family, especially for my mom and me. We had the task of helping him with his rehabilitation and taking care of his day-to-day needs. As the years progressed, his health declined and he began suffering from dementia. The last few months of his life were the most challenging. When he passed away on the morning of February 7th, I felt a lot of heartache. We were so involved in his care that I thought, “What now?” How does one create a normal routine when caregiving has been such a major responsibility for so many years? I also wondered what lessons I could take away from this experience.
If you have ever been in the role of caregiver, you know the amount of time, energy and work it involves. There’s a reason they have a diagnosis referred to as “Caregiver Role Strain.” Many emotional rewards are associated with taking care of others, but there are also a great deal of physical, psychological and emotional stresses that come into play. Most caregivers become so involved with taking care of the other person, their own health suffers.
While my dad was sick, my mom and I were never in doubt about the genuine concern family members, neighbors and friends had for us. We appreciated the kind words and offers for help from everyone. These offers were well-intentioned. We never took advantage of any of them. We were too busy caring for my dad. I believe that’s what happens with most caregivers. It’s not easy to take a step back from that role to think about when and where you could use some help. The real eye-opener was when hospice came in at the end of my dad’s life. We were able to experience what it was like to have someone share in our burdens.
I cannot say enough positive things about the hospice care my dad received. Each person from hospice was a true godsend. They all demonstrated an amazing amount of compassion. In fact, I don’t believe I have ever experienced such compassion at any other time in my life. With their assistance, we were able to make sure my dad was comfortable in his last days. They were always available whenever we had a question or needed help. Our only regret was not having them come in earlier.
After my dad passed, I had a lot of extra time to think about his illness and our roles as caregivers. Would we have done anything differently? Like most caregivers, probably not. One of the main lessons I learned is that I can respond to the needs of other caregivers differently, in a way that provides some relief and benefit without their having to ask. So, here’s what I want to try to do and I challenge you to try to do the same – I want to be deliberate about providing help to the caregivers I know in my immediate community. Instead of waiting for him or her to ask for help, I will be proactive. Of course, I will be respectful and not intrusive in the person’s life by asking for permission to assist. Once permission is given, there are many ways I can provide assistance. Here are some examples of things I can do:
- When I go to the grocery store, I can pick up some extras of the essentials like eggs, milk and bread, and drop them off for the caregiver.
- Call and let the caregiver know I am going shopping and ask if they need me to pick up anything specific for them.
- Prepare a meal for the caregiver and drop it off at their home.
- Call and ask the caregiver when I can come and sit with the person who is ill so the caregiver can get some relief from the caregiving role.
- Call the caregiver to ask how she or he is doing and then just listen, letting the person talk about what is going on without offering advice.
One doesn’t need to be in the role of a caregiver to need assistance. There are so many ways we can help people around us. We just need to observe and open our hearts to recognize the needs. Once we lend our hands and our hearts to those in our community, there’s no telling what can be accomplished. One thing is for certain. We will end up with a strong and united community. Have some ideas of your own? Please share them here.