10 things I learned from caregiving
photo courtesy of judith henry

Not being a rainbow and pink unicorn kind of gal, I have to applaud the honesty of Ann Brenoff’s recent piece on HuffPost entitled, “No, Caregiving is Not Rewarding. It Simply Sucks.”  There isn’t a caregiver alive who can’t identify with that kind of bone-deep exhaustion, anger, and frustration.

Let’s face it, if given a choice, we’d rather the people we love remain healthy and vital forever, making this role unnecessary. But, that’s not how it happens, which brings me to the point of writing this piece.

As a family caregiver and working daughter, juggling the demands of a father with dementia and a mother with breast cancer and heart disease, there were often days I questioned my sanity, and ability to keep on. I fantasized about getting my real life back, then instantly felt guilty knowing what that would mean. I was doing too much. I wasn’t doing enough. Compassion fatigue, fractured family dynamics, and issues with paid caregivers often stressed me to the max, and every ring of my cell phone triggered a fight or flight response.

Yeah, a lot of it did suck, but there were also moments of clarity, purpose, and deep connection that might never have happened without the accompanying angst.

This is what I know, for sure.

  1. I believe in kindness, but don’t mess with me when my parent’s well-being is at stake.
  2. Digesting large amounts of medical information quickly? No problem. Hospital food?  That’s another story.
  3. Forgive the woo-woo, but part of my purpose for being here was to care for my folks.
  4. Not really a crier, the kindness of a stranger can still disarm me, every time.
  5. After six years as my parent’s healthcare advocate, there isn’t much that intimidates me.
  6. At the end, our deepest conversations may have little to do with words.
  7. Just being with my folks was sometimes more important than doing for them.
  8. Whether giving or receiving care, we all have a deep need to be understood and appreciated.
  9. Laughter and tears can both be ways of dealing with loss.
  10. You can ultimately see caregiving as a gift, and still want to return it now and then.

How about sharing a few of your own caregiving truths.

And by the way, the bird’s nest in this post is a treasured batik, created by my mom, Sally, many years ago.

Written by Judith Henry
When Judith’s parents became ill in 2007, even her reputation as a pragmatist, planner, and dutiful daughter (her father’s term) couldn’t prepare her for what lay ahead – a long list of concerns that included navigating an unfamiliar healthcare system, addressing financial and legal issues, dealing with stress, unexpected family dynamics, and ultimately making hospice arrangements. That experience led her to write, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving, part intimate recollection and part down-to-earth advice. Loaded with humor and not a few tears, it's geared towards adult children who find themselves taking on more responsibility for an aging parent’s well-being. Judith also speaks on a variety of topics, including caring for older adults; dealing with grief and loss; the benefits of expressive writing for caregivers. Her presentations and workshops are appropriate for a wide range of businesses and organizations including civic associations, writer’s groups, women’s centers, health maintenance and healthcare facilities. Described as a warm and engaging speaker, Judith excels at connecting with an audience through humor, personal knowledge and experience. She can be reached through www.JudithDHenry.com

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3 Comments

  1. I’ve chosen to be a caregiver. I am paid for my services. The people I care for become family to me. I come in when they aren’t as they were but not consumed by Alzheimer’s. I see the changes, watch the faces of the family and friends. It takes a toll on me. I have been told it’s what I’m paid to do so these things shouldn’t bother me as much. Yes, it hurts to hear that. My thoughts are, if I didn’t feel anything I couldn’t do what I do. You have to have a lot of empathy yet a thick skin. This is my chosen path..

    Reply
  2. It is not so much the caregiving or the daily needs rather all of the other stuff that comes up to make it seem harder. Caring and loving the person you married 42 years ago is really a joy.

    Reply
  3. I know what it feels like to watch my vibrant, beautiful, loving and open hearted mother that only very few to be blessed have, was given the honor of taking care. Taking care of my Mom was the honor of my life.
    Love you MOM

    Reply

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