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Climbing Mt. Caregiver: Conquering the Peak of Caregiving is like Climbing a Mountain

Posted May 27 2009 10:37pm


This past weekend, my husband, his co-worker, and I climbed a mountain in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /> AngelesNational Forest to view a plane-crash site. Starting at 4,900 feet, we climbed to 7,900 feet; first, through pine-needles, then scree (slippery rock and dirt along the side of a mountain). We used trekking poles to keep from sliding down the mountain. Once we reached jagged rocks, we used leather gloves to protect our hands from mutilation. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />



Few people take this journey; almost a pilgrimage. Because of this, there are no trails, only deer trails—our footprints following hoof prints. It took us ten hours including two-and-a-half-hours of breaks with a one-hour rest period at the top; where we took time to eat, drink, clean our feet, air out socks, and change toe pads or band aids before memorializing those airborne who had lost their lives decades earlier to this mountain obstacle.


During the nearly three-hour journey back and while my knees ached unbearably (I need a lot more training before tackling Mt. Whitney this September), I got to thinking about caregivers.



Like aspiring wilderness trekkers, caregivers rarely know the full extent of the road ahead. Many of us commit and then take our journey one step at a time. As the journey grows challenging, we often encounter obstacles we believe we can’t surmount. Like mountain trekkers, we need to take a momentary break to catch our breath in order to muster the strength to push forward. Sometimes, we need a little help to maintain our footing on the crumbly terrain. The right tools—whether they are trekking poles, leather gloves, band aids, support group members, family, friends, or other community resources—will prevent us from sliding down the slippery slope of a mountain of caregiving responsibilities.



Fortunately, caregivers today need not be pioneers during a caregiving journey. Millions have already walked the road of caregiving and hundreds are willing to share their stories. More resources are available to help caregivers—including educational, respite, and in-home care. Instead of having to cautiously navigate along deer trails like caregivers of yesteryear, today’s caregivers are able to follow well-worn and tested paths along the way.



Yet, the journey is still a very personal one, as no amount of resources can lift the entire emotional, mental, and physical toll on each caregiver. For this reason, today’s caregivers must be prepared with the right educational and assistive tools and be willing to take breaks along the way.


When my thigh began cramping severely at the top of the mountain, I had to take a break to rest and re-evaluate how to use my legs differently or risk a rescue. Nothing is more humiliating (not to mention expensive) than to call for a helicopter rescue. The same holds true for caregiving.



Caregivers need rest. You need to know when to stop and reevaluate how you’re going to continue your journey. Too many caregivers have needlessly passed on before their loved ones because they exhausted themselves to death. Certainly, no one else can provide as good of care for your loved one as you can. But if you’re not here long enough to provide care, what good has your sacrifice been? Know when to stop, step back, reassess, then call for help before it’s too late.


Now’s the time to enjoy a break—a vacation, a retreat, a weekend at the beach, or a trip to the mountains.


This weekend, I’ll be at the College of the Siskiyous, at the foot of Mt.Shasta (northern California ) helping the MountainCaregiverResourceCenter (MCRC) with their annual Caregiver Retreat. The caregiving heroes who will be attending will be taking a much-deserved weekend respite from their daily caregiving duties to regroup, reassess, recreate, and refresh in order to muster the strength and maybe even return with a different mindset about their roles as caregivers. It will be my pleasure to serve these caregivers as I know how much they need this time away from their day-to-day duties of caregiving.  For information about the MCRC's programs call: 800-995-0878
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