I’ve been a family caregiver for three generations of family members, and am my disabled husband’s caregiver now. My caregiving days begin early and often end late. It’s a grueling schedule.
The other evening, when I was feeling spent, Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening,” came to mind. I love this poem and am intrigued by the fact that Frost stated the last phrase twice to make his point. Just as Frost wrote it, I said the phrase out loud twice, and could almost feel his fatigue.
When I became a family caregiver I joined an army of caregivers across America. According to an estimate from the National Alliance for Caregiving, during the last year 65.7 million Americans–29 percent of the adult population–served as family caregivers for an ill or disabled loved one. Despite exhaustion and their own health problems, these caregivers strive to keep their promises.
What promises do we make?
The promise of dependability. Care receivers are dependent on us and want us to keep our word and follow through. If we say we’re going to buy supplies for a loved one, then we should do it as soon as possible. If we promise to take a loved one out to lunch, then we should do it. Our loved ones are counting on us.
The promise of safety. No matter what the illness, no matter what the age, your loved one wants to feel safe and secure. You may wish to ask a consultant to conduct a safety review of your home. New locks may have to be installed on doors, railings may have to be secured, and lighting may have to be improved.
The promise of patience. Sure, family caregivers get impatient, but we can keep our impatience to ourselves. The one thing we don’t want to do is project our feelings on loved ones who are ill. Before I became a family caregiver I thought I was a patient person. I discovered that my patience needed to be enhanced.
The promise of companionship. A loved one who moved in with you had to give up a lot, including their independence, beloved possessions, and the companionship of neighbors and friends. Although we can’t make up for an entire neighborhood or all friends, we can still be companions and attentive listeners.
The promise of quality care. To meet health care standards, we have to learn new techniques, get extra training, and hire outside help. A professional caregiver comes to our home every morning and stays for two hours, which is how long it takes to get my husband up for the day. I would be lost without her help.
The promise of kindness and love. You accepted the role of family caregiver because you care. I cared for my mother for nine years, was my twin grandchildren’s guardian/caregiver for seven years, and have been my husband’s caregiver for two years. That’s a total of 18 years. The fact that he is alive is a miracle and I savor the miracle every day.
The good thing about caregiving promises is that we can keep them. We keep our promises for the loved ones in our care, and because we want to keep them. Family caregiving is love in action and that is a blessing.