What’s Your Grief is obviously, above all else, a blog about grief. If it weren’t, the site would have to be called something like “Two Girls with A Lot of Complain-y Opinions about Life.” Which does have a nice ring to it, but is maybe a touch too long
Anyway, in talking about grief, we also have a responsibility to talk about all the things that precede it, accompany it, and follow it. Death and grief are like the eye of a long and turbulent storm. For some of us, the storm hits out of the blue… while others can hear it for a long time coming.
We’ve lately had a few readers leave comments on the site about a unique part of their storm – the experience of caregiving. We’d like to take a few minutes to touch on this topic and, if at the end of this post, you’re looking for more in-depth support, we will point you towards a few great resources that offer a wealth of support for caregivers.
The Physical Toll of Caregiving:
Let’s start by addressing the physical aspects of caregiving. According to the Caregiving Action Network,
“Nearly three quarters (72%) of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves. 63% of caregivers report having poor eating habits than non-caregivers and 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.”
Oftentimes caregiving gets added to a person’s list of responsibilities, which means that caregivers can find themselves spread pretty thin. Being responsible for someone else’s care is a big responsibility and, depending on the situation, you may be on call to attend to this person’s needs 24/7.
When you are relied upon in this way, and when you feel as though it’s up to you to ensure your loved one doesn’t suffer, you may find yourself prioritizing their well being to the detriment of your own. You may find yourself ignoring things like…
…getting enough sleep
…taking time to eat well
…personal doctors’ appointments
…mental health breaks
I know it seems like these matters can wait, but sometimes they can’t. You need to try and care for your own needs whenever you can. Try to find small and constructive ways to take care of yourself, because when you are sick, exhausted and stressed out, you will be less of a resource for others.
Check out our section on self-care for easy and realistic ways to take care of yourself. These self-care suggestions aren’t just for grievers, despite what some of the titles suggest.
Emotional Considerations in Caregiving:
Caregiving can provide the caregiver with many positive feelings, including but (obviously) not limited to:
Fulfillment: The act of taking care of another human being can be a humbling but fulfilling opportunity. Occupying such a necessary and rewarding role can provide the caregiver with a sense of meaning and purpose.
The Gift of Time: In some cases (but not all), being someone’s caregiver provides you with the opportunity to bond and spend time with the individual. This can be especially meaningful when caring for someone who is terminally ill. The caregiver will often reflect upon this time period as stressful but invaluable.
Repaying Our Elders: For those who take care of the parents, grandparents, etc. who nurtured them as children, caregiving can provide on opportunity to give back to those who raised us.
If you feel stressed out, anxious, resentful, or worried about the task of caregiving, don’t feel guilty. You are not alone. Many people experience a range of negative feelings at one point or another while in the role of caregiver. These feelings might be felt towards…
…the family member
…the disease or injury
…and unhelpful or imposing family and friends
I personally think it’s important to note caregiving does not come naturally to everyone. Some people are born nurturers; if you’ve ever had a great nurse you know what I’m talking about. But for some people, caregiving is a completely foreign and uncomfortable job. I think as capable humans, we often feel like we ought to be able to do certain things. Specifically, the able bodied and healthy ought to be able to take care of someone else’s physical well being… but this isn’t necessarily true. There’s a reason why nurses go to school for years upon years. All this to say: Go easy on yourself because it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.
Here’s a list of totally normal negative feelings associated with caregiving:
…for having to sacrifice your life to take care of your loved one
…towards your loved one’s needs
…towards other friends and family who get to go on with their lives
…towards the illness/disease/injury
…at the situation
…at the illness/disease/injury
…at an uncooperative patient
…for not wanting to be a caregiver
…for not doing a good enough job
…for allowing yourself to take a break once in a while
…for being healthy when your loved one is not
…about your loved one’s health
…about not being there when your loved one needs you
…about not knowing what to do or doing something wrong
…of the disease
…of the future
…of making a mistake
…of your loved one dying
…of harming your loved one
…because you wish you could do more
…because you can’t control everything
…because you can’t relieve your loved one’s pain
…because you aren’t sure how to help
…because you aren’t sure if you’re doing the right things
As mentioned above, when you’re a caregiver, other priorities quickly fall down on the list. We have only so much to give and, if your time and attention are primarily focused on your role as caregiver, other aspects of your life may begin to suffer such as:
- Financial Security
- Personal Health
Finding balance is a struggle for anyone with any combination of the commitments and responsibilities listed above. Adding your role as caregiver can tip the scales. There is no way anyone could do it all. Hopefully the people in your life have an understanding and appreciation for your situation, but try not to completely resent or ignore them if they do make demands on your time and attention. Chances are they just care about you and love you. That’s all I can really say about that because the key to finding equilibrium depends on your unique situation, responsibilities and support system.
Being a caregiver can be extremely difficult if you have limited resources, time, or support. In fact, you may find yourself making some pretty serious decisions and tradeoffs. Do what you can to find out what services, support, and tools are available to you, be open to asking for and accepting help, and always find time to take care of yourself.
Now that we’ve laid some groundwork, I’m going to hand you off to some other great sites. Hopefully these sites contain the support and information you need. Additionally, we welcome any and all feedback from our readers. Many of you have been through this and, frankly, probably know more than I do. I know what I don’t know folks; but one thing I do know is that the WYG community is super supportive and knowledgable.
Caregiving.org (National Alliance for Caregiving)
Supporting a Caregiver:
If you know someone in a caregiving role, consider offering your support in any way you can but be tactful and try not to intrude. When someone is seriously ill or dying, sometimes it seems like everyone they’ve ever known all of a sudden wants to come calling. This can be exhausting and overwhelming for the sick person and their family. Some patients and caregivers may love the company, but others might not. Hopefully you know which category your sick loved one falls in, but if you’re not sure then ask. Also, check in to find out what time of day is best for visits for both the patient and the caregiver. As with every person and every family, there are good and bad times to hang around. Use your instincts and, when you aren’t sure, just ask. Here are a few general examples of ways to support a caregiver…
…offer to sit with their loved one while they take a break
…if they won’t leave their loved one, ask if you can come over and keep them company
…if you have a bored teenager, offer their services to mow the lawn or babysit children
…next time you are going to the store, ask if you can pick them up a few things
…cook them dinner
We hope to have offered some useful support for caregivers. If you have anything to add to our discussion, please comment below. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to receive posts straight to your email inbox.