What is of greatest benefit for a caregiver?
For myself, time to reflect upon how to balance my desires and expectations with the caregiving role I had assumed for another. This was of most benefit to me.
It was after the death of my father that I came to experience the positive change in attitude that this time of reflection can bring.
Mom and I had never been close. We never had what is viewed as the traditional ‘mother-daughter’ relationship. In fact, we’d had strong differences of opinion, and unresolved situations from our past.
But after the death of my father, Mom had nowhere familiar to go. And she was already in the early stages of dementia.
While we lived in a big city and she came from a small rural area, I felt she would be more comfortable living with my husband and I than with strangers in a rest home.
But could this work?
After a great deal of thought I came to the following decision: If I loved Mom, and cared for her well-being enough to want her to come and live with us, then I was clearly able to, if not forget the past, at least to forgive her for her part in it, even if this remained unspoken.
And if I loved her that much, then we would be okay. I would have no expectations of her. I would see what she could manage on her own and with what she needed help, and move forward from there.
That decision set my attitude.
Letting go of the past opened the way for Mom and I to eventually establish a curiously close relationship, one which had eluded us during my youth, and to heal the wounds we both had suffered in our mother-daughter angst.
Years later, as my husband, Chris, grew weaker and his heart disease progressed, I knew I needed help. I availed myself of what the local public health agency had to offer, but it was very limited.
In church one Sunday the priest told us to reflect upon whatever special blessing we required. I knew what I needed:
I needed God’s grace to see me through to the end of my husband’s illness. It is one thing to do what is asked of us by life, but it is another thing entirely to do it with love and joy.
No, I was not always cheerful and loving! I’m also human!
But at times when I caught myself ‘tensing’ into a reactive and unpleasant state I’d remember my prayer for grace, breathe out my tension and relax into a more loving approach; one that benefitted both myself and my husband.
We don’t have much time to ourselves; at least, I didn’t. But once or twice I had the time to think deeply about my position as caregiver.
And I believe it was the result of the thoughts generated, the decisions made and the attitude engendered by these times of contemplation that made my caregiving experiences positive.
It was in these times of reflection that I came to realize it is not the person in my care who determines how I feel about looking after them. That comes from within me.
I learned that I decide what my attitude will be, what presence I will bring into the room.