When I read stories about caring for aging relatives especially when the caregiver is a young mother, shows me the irony in caregiving roles. We contribute to another’s care to the point of losing our own good health, our peace, and ultimately our sense of well being. The question and concern for us is “how can we contribute to someone else when we have nothing left to give to ourselves?”
Family caregivers need to balance love, caregiving, and guilt. Close to 54 million Americans care for a disabled or sick family member, according to the 2006 survey conducted by Met Life. And although most bear the burden with love, social workers say caregiving is so demanding that most people feel inadequate. Yes, we do. Remembering the times caring for my mom as she waited in clinics to have her lung drained of fluids sorely reminds me just how inadequate I felt! Relieving her pain was my hope but my attempt to do so was extremely insufficient.
Beware of guilt, experts warn us. Eventually, such emotions can extract a heavy toll on the health of the caregiver -- and that hurts everyone involved.
Of all the emotional hurdles family caregivers face, including anger and resentment, guilt is the most pervasive, says Mimi Goodrich, a licensed clinical social worker at the Wellness Center in San Mateo, CA. “its right up there on the list. Caregivers feel it’s their obligation to make these years the happiest. But none of us has that power. When caregivers have expectations that are unrealistic, that’s when the guilt comes in.”
Ah, the truth in that statement by Goodrich brings me to the realization that I, as a caregiver, need to re-adjust my expectation level. But before I can do that, I must choose to care for myself first; making my life a priority! Who'd a thought?
Looking at my own family’s experience; my sister’s cholesterol is now higher due the stress of caring for our dad. Janice fills her life with dad’s day to day care requirements; overseeing the meds, naps, eating and his comfort. While I commend and praise her for the fabulous contribution she makes to his life, she is exhausted and stressed! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear “I’m exhausted,” from her. Her recent physical exam shows that she has an increase in her cholesterol level, many times a symptom of stress.
Which reminds me what Pat Coleman, an elder care consultant, says about caring for an aging senior when asked what can caregivers do? Most importantly, turn to community programs and professional resources for help, as well as to family or friends. "Guilt is driven, in part, by the lack of access to information, especially during a crisis, It’s brought on by trying to get through the morass of needs and decisions and not knowing what supports and services are available. Often there hasn't been anyone there to tell us what we might need until we actually need it, so there's tremendous guilt in feeling we haven't done enough."
Family caregivers.. honor your deeds! You are earth angels, believe me!