Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

During the past couple years of Covid restrictions many families began a journey of caring for a loved one.  For many it was a time of chaos of caring for elder relatives, caring for children and trying to maintain a job working remote.  There were many demands on everyone’s time, patience, and attention.  Complaints of stress and physical and mental exhaustion became commonplace.

Two years later we have returned to more of a normal existence.  The cost of returning elder relatives to senior facilities has become out of reach for many families.   Many families have learned how to care for elder relatives and live together in harmony.  The multi-generational family offers many benefits for everyone as elders learn about the new trends and children learn the history of their family.

In my book One Caregiver’s Journey I journal the changes and challenges of caring for a loved one.  I cared for my mother for nearly a decade in my home until her death at age 102.  Until she broke her hip at age 93, she was a vibrant, active, and critical part of our family.  While many accidents can end the ability of people to enjoy life, my mother chose to continue as best she could to be active.  My ability to earn a living was cut short as I focused on becoming her 24/7 sole care provider.  She was never stressed or worried about her care.  I worked tirelessly to ensure her safety and wellbeing and to learn all I could to be the best caregiver for her.  This should be every caregiver’s focus.

The journey into old age is one filled with many changes and challenges.  There are many ways to make the journey positive for both the caregiver and your loved one.  There are many positive and wonderful experiences for caregivers who help their loved one’s age in place.  Caregiving, like aging, is not for sissies so it takes a fair amount of grit to be a loving, successful caregiver.  There are many unpleasant duties in caregiving but watching your loved one grow old with a happy countenance erases any distress.  How can we, as caregivers, ensure our loved ones make a wonderful journey into old age and care for ourselves at the same time?

Be Present and Compassionate

Your loved one has daily needs, many the same as the caregiver’s.  Always ask yourself, how would I feel if I were left alone…if I were not bathed, dressed, or medicated?  How would I feel if someone who was to be caring for me sat and looked at their phone browsing online support or advice?  Caregivers need to set a schedule that allows for your loved one to receive all the attention and care they need.  After, and only after, can the caregiver think of what else they need to accomplish.  There will be days where the caregiver accomplishes very little other caring for a loved one, but their loved one is safe and cared for.

Your duty is to provide care, be present to your responsibilities.

One of the most respected aspects of a good caregiver is compassion.  Doing the little things such as combing someone’s hair to make them feel good about themselves takes little time with many rewards.  Often just sitting with someone who is not feeling well is providing the best care possible.  Make the journey with a loved one into old age with a compassionate heart.

Be Grateful

It is easy to fall into the perennial pity party that everyone is enjoying life while you are isolated caring for your elder relative.  Many people would gladly trade places as they know the pain of having a loved one die.  Gratitude may not come easy on those days when everything bad that can happen does.  But there are also the days when your loved one laughs, tells a story, or thanks you for your dedicated love.   and care.  Be grateful that you are part of someone’s journey into old age, many will never have that experience.  Be grateful that you have the energy and knowledge to be a caregiver.   

Gratitude includes being able to laugh and find humor in the task at hand.  I found something to smile about daily, regardless of how difficult my journey seemed over nearly a decade.  Gratitude is having faith that you can assume these tasks.  Faith in yourself as well as faith in some higher power is absolutely necessary to succeed.  Gratitude is love.  You have no business being a caregiver if not for the love of your elder relative.  Faith, humor, and love equals gratitude.

Be Confident

You got this.  Caregivers build confidence in their ability to care for someone as they age.  Remembering your successes in difficult situations allows you to accept the changes and challenges of being a caregiver.  Watching someone grow old with dignity and respect and loving care is reflected in the confidence of a job well done for caregivers.

Offer Encouragement and Don’t Hesitate to Act

Sometimes simple words of encouragement are all that is needed to make a journey successful.  When my mother broke her hip and was struggling to walk on a walker – my brother and I would say “every step you take is a step closer to coming home.”  She grew stronger and came home because of her determination and our encouragement.  She used her walker until her death at 102.  Caregivers learn how to safely assist elderly loved ones to get out of chairs, go up and down steps, and in and out of cars.  Do not hesitate to learn ways to make their life safer and easier.

Take Care of You

The duties of caregiving are exhausting, period, plain and simple.  Sometimes it is not possible to carve out time for yourself because of the job at hand.  Taking care of you may be as simple as stepping outdoors and taking in a few quiet moments in the fresh air.  Self-care is not always about respite and leaving the job.  In my book I remind readers that even though you might leave for a day or two, your heart and mind are always with your loved one.  Your body is gone but you will find yourself calling to ensure they are safe.  Taking care of you might be getting a new haircut, reading while your loved one naps.  Meditation and mindfulness are the highest ways to ensure self-care.

Caring for a loved one can be a wonderful journey for you and your loved one as they age.  All you need is faith, humor, and love.

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