Article submitted by Joy C. Davidson, End of Life Coach, Pastor, Author, Speaker, owner of Joyful Transitions, LLC. Joy can be reached at 720-244-2660.
According to the World Federation for Mental Health, “Caregiving affects us all. Regardless of culture or country, all people have been – currently are – or will need a caregiver during the course of their lifetime.” Okay….. So, what is a caregiver? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines caregiver as “A person who provides direct care (as for children, elderly people, or the chronically ill)”. While this definition covers those who care for loved ones (if they reach a stage in life where additional assistance is needed) in their own or their loved one’s home as well as those who earn their income professionally as a caregiver, I think it leaves out a group of caregivers – those caregivers whose loved ones reside in a community or group home, yet they remain highly involved in overseeing their loved one’s care and financial affairs.
This is the reason I prefer the Merriam-Webster English Learner Dictionary definition of a caregiver as, “A person who gives help and protection to someone (such as a child, an old person, or someone who is sick)”. I was a caregiver for sixteen years for my aunt and my mom. Yet I never cared for either one in my home or theirs. (For a variety of reasons, it was just not a viable option.) This definition recognizes the essence of caregiving lies, not just in the provision of physical care, but rather in the emotional and / or physical investment necessary to successfully advocate for their loved one(s) throughout their final years.
If it was all about meeting the physical needs, the stereotypical nursing home model of the past with its residents aimlessly wandering the halls, rooms and halls filled with awful smells, poor food, and emphasis on the dollar in the pocket of the parent corporation would still be alive and well. Thankfully, that model is more and more a thing of the past but, unfortunately, they do still exist (and, yes, I do know who you are).
A caregiver in helping and protecting their loved one is a successful advocate – advocating for their loved one(s) to be valued as a human being(s), their loved one(s) medical needs to be met, their loved one(s) wishes to be not only considered but actually implemented at all times, and the list could go on. I would further propose that a caregiver is a successful advocate for themselves as well.
As people used to repeatedly remind me, during the time when I was caring for and advocating for multiple ill and dying family members at the same time, it is important to put the oxygen mask on first yourself (to use the airplane analogy). This was my standard for measuring whether I was caring for and advocating for myself first and foremost. Not because I am self-centered, but because I realized that if I was six feet under I would not be as much use to my loved one(s). How many of us know dead caregivers? How many of us know dead caregivers that are still an advocate? NONE.
At one point in my caregiving journey, I experienced thirteen (yes, 13!) major life events in eight (yes, 8!) months: my mother’s stroke, subsequent dementia, and almost ending in her death; my sister’s illness and death; my aunt’s decline and death; divorce; job loss; and new business start. (I feel like I need to stop and catch my breath – and I am only typing a very brief summary!) You may have surmised by now, but I am not six feet under. Not only can I fog a mirror, but I actually managed to thrive during this time. I thrived by valuing my loved one(s), their lives, and their trust in me, but, most important, I thrived because I valued ME! I was not selfish; I was putting the oxygen on myself first to maintain myself in order to maintain them.
As my caregiving season came to an end with my mother’s death fifteen months later, I realized that my experience had value. Not everyone that enters the caregiving journey is still able to fog a mirror at the end of the loved one’s life, so I wrote my book, Surviving the Storm: Finding the Best New Normal to support caregivers wanting to thrive on the journey, I rebranded my business to focus on speaking and writing with the purpose of empowering the caregiver for a successful and thriving journey, I wrote an interactive grief support group curriculum to help those who now grieve grow in and through their grief, and I plan to launch an online caregiver community to put tools and support in the hands of the caregiver daring to believe it is possible to thrive on the journey.
To answer the question, “Who Cares?”, I do as well as many of you reading this article, including those working in the senior industry. I have met so many of you that I know there are great hearts out there doing what you do because you care. I have heard the phrase “Silver Tsunami” repeatedly, and often with great fear, because apparently some of us are not sure we are going to survive. To tell you the truth, I do not know how we are going to survive either. One thing I do know is that if we link arms, caring for ourselves, each other, and our loved ones together we can and will thrive on the journey as we complete the most fulfilling task in life – walking with another through the end of their life’s journey!
More about Joy Davidson and Joyful Transitions, LLC
Founded in 2011, Joy C. Davidson and Joyful Transitions, LLC, are a voice of experience working with older adults and their families as they face changes, seek late in life purpose, and search for the resources and confidence to live a powerful life. Our support is available through speaking and educational presentations and curriculum.
© 2013, All Rights Reserved by Joy C, Davidson, Joyful Transitions, LLC
Posted May 2013 on www.SeniorsResourceGuide.com