Category Archives: caregiving and attitude

Tribute to A Family Caregiver.

My sister-in-law Shan looked over at me.  Her eyes filled with tears, but her voice held as she told me my brother, Jerry, had been stabilized and heavily medicated, following very intrusive emergency surgery. 

Shan had known some of what lay ahead for them when they married; he was already infected with the virus that would take his life just fifteen years later.  They had a daughter together and Shan kept up her busy professional career. She hadn’t much choice: Jerry’s illness forced his retirement six years ago.

Jerry was the youngest sibling in our family.  His twin, Jack, died ten years ago of a different cancer.  Unlike Jerry, Jack died within a month of his diagnosis.  

My partner and I drove seventeen hours to get to the Edmonton hospital where Jerry had been transported the week before he died.  I got to spend precious time with him in the ICU the night we arrived and for some days following. 

Then the Coronavirus pandemic dictated that only his wife and child would be allowed to visit, we returned home to the coast.  

It must have been gruelling for Shan to drive for hours early every morning from their hometown to the Edmonton hospital and then back again late at night, often in temperatures of 30 below.

Then there was the financial burden of a hotel and meals in Edmonton on those days when he would experience further emergency medical procedures which left his fate uncertain until the wee hours of the morning.  

But Shan was always there, always speaking positively of Jerry and their relationship, though the strain the last few months must have been considerable.

The strain on caregivers is inconceivable to those who have never had to juggle a career, child-rearing and never-ending medical appointments, including specialist’s medical procedures. All of this, along with other familial obligations and social commitments. 

It is especially difficult when the career of the caregiver is at its peak. The long sought after position is then at its most demanding, but if the health of a partner or child falters, then fails, decisions must be made that inevitably compromise professional responsibilities.

And if, as in many cases, the parents of the caregiver are also aging, or their child has special needs, the burden can be overwhelming!

In the midst of this pandemic, when many of us are self-isolating, we have the opportunity to reflect upon the  role that some among us fulfil with grace and dedication, patiently and lovingly, and the courage and stamina that such a role requires.

We are grateful to Shan for her loving care of our brother.

 

Bif Naked, A Cancer Survivor, Speaks Out About Caregiving.

“Cancer is the big reveal.” 

So states singer/songwriter Beth Torbert, more popularly known as Bif Naked, in her article in the September 27th edition of the STARMETRO.

Epiphanies and transformations happen within the cancer patient, she says, allowing for deeper self-knowledge, for discarding or examining pre-conceived notions, and ideas about the self.

Bif observed that women are often uncomfortable with being cared for:  They are used to being the caregivers.

It can take time to accept nurturing.  And for many cancer patients, unrealized issues of self-esteem can arise.

 Bif found her natural reaction to her own cancer was to make others laugh.  To use self-deprecating humour to lighten every situation. 

Being able to use her special brand of humour to make people break out in “snort laughter” was an important aspect of making others more relaxed with her condition, and with what was happening in the present moment.

She felt at her best when she was helping others.  And, she reflects, taking care of others can be a natural response for women.

This ability to invoke laughter in others helped Bif to lose all sense of time: to allay her fears. 

It was her way of caring not only for herself, but for her family, her medical teams, and her companion cancer patients.

Now that she is a cancer survivor, Bif says she feels it’s her responsibility to visit, to bring cheer.  This amazingly intuitive vocal artist suggests that our Canadian culture makes us reticent, hesitant to intrude.  

But Bif says, Be a pest.  Always be a pest.

The old-fashioned approach, bake a pie, call, bring flowers, read a book, is what best helps overcome the isolation and alienation that families can feel when cancer strikes close to home.  

 Laughter, Bif reiterates, is the best medicine!

Caregiving: Reflecting on Attitude

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.