For the Caregivers

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I just got back from spending some time with my sister’s family (in Charleston; note the lovely tan lines) and helping to welcome my new niece into the world. It’s gotten me thinking about the nature of caregiving. I’ve had the honor -and at times the sorrow- of being a caregiver to several members of my family, young and old. Having another look to me for his or her care is something I never want to take for granted. Though I’m certainly no expert, I have learned a few things about caregiving through my own experiences as well as my career in mental health and I would like to share some of my favorite advice.

Remember why you care. This is for those difficult moments. You know, when the doorbell is ringing and the food is burning and you just remembered a bill you haven’t paid and your loved one is demanding your full attention. Remember, even if you are caring for your loved one partially from a sense of obligation, somewhere along the way, you made a choice to be there for that person. I imagine you have a lot of love for them or you probably wouldn’t have taken on a caregiving role. Accept this role as a choice you made out of love, rather than as an obligatory “should.” Caring out of obligation dishonors both you and your loved one. Caring for another being is a position of honor, so take ownership, and, if you can, try to find gratefulness in your role (but don’t try to force gratefulness if you are not feeling it; it’s okay to feel what you need to feel).

Make room for yourself. Okay, I admit, I’m terrible at this one, but I’m working on it. I’ve learned that making room doesn’t always take a lot of time and money. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a state of mind. You can’t care for another if you don’t put yourself first. After all, if you continuously put yourself on the back-burner, you won’t taste very good, metaphorically speaking. And truthfully, you will be a much better caretaker if you also take the time to care for yourself. So, take a bubble bath. Watch your favorite TV show. Do it for you. Find things to do with your loved one that you both enjoy. For instance, I enjoy singing, and I shared that love with my niece and nephew, who both seemed to enjoy it too. Bonding over things that you both love is part of the magic of caregiving

Treasure intimate moments. Whether accompanied by joy or sorrow, pleasure or frustration, there is always a particular “preciousness” that keeps us rooted in these caregiving moments long after the clock has ticked past them. They become a part of us and the moments can never be erased. I remember vividly when I was caring for my mother during one of her last weeks on this earth and she held my hand tightly as she fell asleep and wouldn’t let go. How touching it was for me last week when I found my new little niece doing the same. Life’s precious moments have a way of coming full circle, sometimes when we least expect them. Don’t forget to notice them, and, more importantly, don’t forget to feel them. Acknowledge them with a tear or a smile and don’t be afraid to let them become a part of who you are.

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