If you had a chance to read my last post, you’d know that I’m currently focused on helping care for a family member with a long-term illness.
Cancer sucks! Any life-threatening illness is excruciatingly horrible because it drains our loved ones not only of their physical health, but it also challenges their endurance, emotional wellbeing, and their will to live.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for my family for the last few months and most times, the prognosis has not been hopeful. However, personally as a caregiver to someone with advanced cancer, what continues to remain my goal is to make sure my loved one is comfortable and out of pain, that as many of their basic needs are met as possible, and that they feel loved and reassured that I’m right by their side as much as I can.
Caregiving comes naturally to me. Something takes over in me during times like this and fills me with the strength and courage needed to care for other people. By instinct and from being a parent, caregiving gives me purpose and I feel comfort in knowing that I’m comforting someone that I love.
I try to see the person underneath the illness, try to connect with them, and try not to be afraid of the horribleness that is taking over their body and mind.
As devastating as it is to witness my loved one experiencing the debilitating effects of this disease, just being with them, showing compassion, and assisting them with their needs comes fairly easy to me. There is no other place I want to be because for me the hardest place to be when my loved one is sick is away from them.
For some people in a similar situation, this isn’t always the case. Not that they don’t share the same love for this person as others and not that they don’t want to be there to help. Everyone deals at coping with a terminal illness in their own way and sometimes that means needing to be away for awhile from the loved one who is ill. Physically being away in location and/or emotionally being away in denial.
Understandably, in most situations like this, where long-term illness is involved, it can be incredibly challenging for everyone in the family.
My way of caregiving is no better or more right than other ways when coping through and handling the caregiving of an ill loved one. Every caregiving situation requires different ways of giving care from its family members and this includes different responsibilities that they may need to and choose to take on.
My way of giving care is the most natural way that I know how to care. Also, my intentions shouldn’t be to judge anyone else’s capabilities or technique for how they deal with caregiving. I keep reminding myself of this in order to respect and understand what my family members are going through. Especially when it comes to how they process the effects of the illness on our loved one and how it is affecting our entire family.
Along with our loved one’s emotional and physical needs being met,genuine and successful caregiving in a family environment also requires all members to respect and understand each other’s emotional and physical needs too.
Despite caring for our loved ones and meeting their physical and emotional needs, and being aware of other family member’s feelings and needs, it's extremely important to remember our own needs too. Not just acknowledging what they are and voicing them out loud, but also making sure they are met.
How can a Caregiver ensure that their own physical and emotional needs are being met?
STOP and BREATHE
Caregiving is not only physically and emotionally exhausting, but it’s also time-consuming. When we spend every moment we can taking care of our loved one (especially full time and long-term) this leaves little room for ourselves. Make time for yourself to meet your own needs.At first, this may seem selfish, impossible and maybe even unimportant compared to our loved one’s needs, but caring for ourselves too is absolutely crucial to our own health and well being during times like this.
Taking some personal space (like a bath, walk, or another form of alone time) is a great way to distance yourself from your caregiving environment and focus some energy on yourself instead. Even if you feel a little selfish at first making time in your day for only you, do it! We all need time to recharge our batteries and take a break from it all. Afterwards, these moments will most likely leave you feeling ready to jump back in and give the best care possible to your loved one. Besides, it’s too easy to get ‘Caregiver Burnout’ while caring for someone that is ill. ME Time usually prevents this and helps remind us how good it feels to be cared for, especially when our loved one isn’t capable of giving the care back to us that we give them.
While you take a step back, notice what feelings arise in you. Let go of incessant thoughts and questions in your mind that doesn’t help you. ("How come I’m so exhausted?”, “Why is this happening to me?” , “What if this never ends?”) Ruminating on the bad stuff will only make you feel tired and defeated.
When we have little choices about our situation and have no control over changing it, it’s easy to focus on the negative, instead of the positive and hopeful. Remind yourself why you are doing this-you love them and want to be the most productive and authentic caregiver for your loved one. Only take on as many responsibilities that you can handle. Don’t be a martyr! There is always help available to you if you ask.
Now that you know how you feel and what you need, voice this! Keep an open, honest, and respectful line of communication with the other caregivers in your team. Voice any concerns you may have about the caregiving environment. Keeping this stuff inside only leads to more stress and resentments with other people.
If it’s a temporary illness that your loved one has or something more terminal and long-term, really BE there for them as much as you can, when you can. No one wants to be cared for by someone that is exhausted, distant, and resentful. Deal with your own issues, worries, and upsets on your own time. Be present in every moment that you have with them, especially if their condition is more terminal. Later, when you reflect back on your time together, you will feel good knowing you gave them your all and didn’t waste any quality time that you’ve shared together.
You’re doing great! Know this and remind yourself of this as much as you need to. Caregiving can be a very thankless job and leave a person feeling unvalued and drained. It takes strength and courage to be a caregiver and to be part of a caregiving team, all while giving the best care that your loved one needs.
Give yourself a big hug...you deserve it!
Tracy Bryan writes whimsical books for kids ages 4-12. She likes to tackle important and diverse topics that affect kids and their families. She also writes a blog for adults and one for kids aged 7-12 called The Awesomeness Blog.