4 Years, 5 Deaths and 4 Powerful Caregiver Lessons
I’ve decided to just come out and say it. The last four years of our lives have sucked! ‘Our,’ as in my wife, Kathy, and I. Here is a rundown of events…
In December of 2013, Kathy’s brother passed away in a tragic accident while working on his car. He was 62. The same day he passed, my sister was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She passed in less than a month on January 15, 2014, at age 66.
That also made me caregiver to mom, who we had to relocate from Florida to North Carolina at age 92. Later that year in August, Kathy’s father passed. In June of 2016, my mom passed. And in January of this year, Kathy’s mom passed. Whew!
Here are some observations and lessons.
Even When You Think You’re Prepared to Be a Caregiver, You’re Not
Caregiving is an immersion. I believe it’s similar to shampooing – lather, rinse, repeat. There is a daily grind of routine that eventually robs you of your own time and health.
Kathy had it worse. She had to travel to Philadelphia for stretches as long as six weeks. I had mom 15 minutes away. Yet, both moms had eerily similar schedules.
There was a certain day for the hairdresser. There was a schedule of doctors’ appointments. There was grocery shopping day and designated days just to spend time together.
It soon becomes apparent that your life has stopped. You’re not exercising, work is suffering, and your overall mental state declines. As someone who works in the field, I thought I was prepared. And my wife is such a great project manager. Still we were overwhelmed.
The pure logistics were dizzying for us. In my mother’s case, after my sister’s death, we had six weeks to find a place and move her.
When you are thrust into a caregiving situation, to avoid going crazy, just jump in and do, respond and act. Truly, don’t think too much about it. There will be plenty of time later.
You do have to make time for yourself. Tend to your health. Plan alone time. Get your other work done as you can. Yes, it’s hard to do.
Post Caregiving Traumatic Stress Syndrome
This may not be a term in the medical lexicon, but it exists. There is PTSD for caregivers. In many ways, you are coming out of battle or multiple battles after someone passes.
It is a battle of consciousness, “Did I do the right things?” and a battle of guilt, “Wow I have all this free time now!” This is when a lot of reflection kicks in.
You are (and we were) blessed to have been able to spend so much quality time with our aging parents (though unfortunately for us not our siblings who passed). Caregiving if you look at it is an opportunity to grow and learn.
We are far more resilient that we realize. Ultimately, after every passing in our family, my wife and I look at each other, shake our heads, and wonder how the hell we got through it all. What you come to realize is we have far more resilience than we think, and that can serve us for future challenges in our lives.
I certainly hope readers will never have to experience so much grief in such a short period of time. Know that when your time comes to be a caregiver, you will step up, you will get through it, you will grow from it, you’ll be stronger from it, and you will have been blessed because of it.
Are you now or have you been in the past a caregiver? What challenges and lessons have you learned from your caregiver experiences? Please share them in the comments below.
Anthony Cirillo is president of The Aging Experience. He helps organizations craft experiences and seize opportunities the mature marketplace. He helps family caregivers thrive and individuals make educated aging decisions. He is a consultant and professional speaker.