Last summer, we kicked off our very first “ABCs of Caregiving” campaign on social media. It was so popular we’ve brought it back and we love hearing all of your feedback and the ways each letter and lesson resonate with you. Here, we’ve compiled the caregiving lessons from letters A through F of our social media campaign, the #abcsofcaregiving—in case you missed them, or to share them with someone who’d be encouraged by them.
A is for Adaptive
Being a caregiver means that your job is constantly changing, and to thrive, you’ll be constantly changing your approach as well!
From year-to-year changes…like going on hospice, month-to-month changes…like losing the ability to walk or even stand on her own, to hourly changes…like sun-downing, my grandmother’s abilities, moods, needs, and desires are constantly shifting. And if I’m not adapting, I’m not going to be able to keep up and provide her with the best care possible.
The constant adaptations are what make caregiving so exhausting, but also what keep it interesting and challenging! Often we don’t even realize the amount of change that is occurring until it’s in retrospect.
B is for Brave
This might sound cheesy, but some of the bravest moments of my life have been while I’ve been caregiving.
Caregivers internalize heaps of emotion, and rarely get the opportunity to fully process everything that we handle.
It takes bravery to make decisions to advocate for medication changes. It takes bravery to adopt a child who you know will need extra assistance in life. It takes bravery to vow “in sickness and in health” to a spouse who suffers from a terminal illness. It takes bravery to sit by your grandmother’s bed all night just to make sure her raspy breathing is just the beginning of a cold and not something more serious. It takes bravery to be scared, to feel alone, to be confused and not sure of anything — and to do it anyway.
Caregivers are brave.
C is for Companion
Any caregiver — spousal, special needs parent, sibling, caring for one’s grandparent or parent, hired through an agency, helping out a neighbor, caring for a relative, long-distance or live-in — every kind of caregiver fits the role of companion.
We are there. We show up.
We are often one of the only consistent companions in our caree’s life, and that puts a lot of pressure on us. But it can also be such an honor.
Something that secretly brings me a little (okay, big) burst of joy is when someone is in with my grandmother who she doesn’t recognize, and I walk in and she gets the biggest smile of relief on her face.
She doesn’t know my name, she doesn’t know that I’m her granddaughter, she doesn’t know HOW she knows me, but she usually recognizes that I’m her constant. And that she can trust me, and that she can count on me, and that I’m going to continue to show up for her.
D is for Develop
While physically becoming a caregiver can sometimes happen overnight, learning the ins and outs of caregiving, and even coming to accept the title “caregiver” for yourself takes time.
We are constantly learning, constantly evolving, constantly developing. And so is the person for whom you care!
You develop an understanding of their specific needs and desires; you develop a tolerance to bad moods, bad smells, and bad news; you develop that thick skin that all caregivers seem to possess, whether it feels like it or not!
You develop your own “language” with your caree…your own forms of communication and understanding. You develop your own inside jokes with them, your own likes and dislikes and boundaries and bonds.
When I started seriously helping my mom care for my grandmother five years ago, I felt like I knew nothing. I was awkward and clueless and scared. And while I still feel those insecurities creeping in, I look at how much I’ve grown in these past five years — how much I’ve developed as a person, as a granddaughter, as a caregiver — and I’m shocked.
E is for Engage
There are few things that make me happier than seeing people outside of our family engage with my grandmother. (Or with anybody who has a caregiver with them!)
Seeing my friends come up next to her and ask her questions about herself, or bring their guitars over for an evening of singing with her. Seeing the hospice nurses addressing her instead of me when asking how she’s been feeling lately. Our pastor coming to visit her even though she’s never been to his church before. People still putting in the effort to converse with her even when they have to repeat themselves over and over again.
Seeing others engage with those for whom we care is such a small thing, but it means so much. It makes it feel less lonely as a caregiver to have a friend invested not only in your life, but in your caree’s life as well.
So here’s a challenge for you to take with you: engage with others. Even if they’re difficult to engage with; even if they have trouble hearing or seeing you; even if they can’t remember who you are; even if they don’t speak the same as you; even if you feel awkward and you don’t know how; even if they can’t engage back or hold eye contact or want to talk about obscure topics you know nothing about.
Humans crave connection, and it’s something we can all be better at. Engage.
F is for Flawed
There’s no such thing as a perfect caregiver. No matter what it looks like on social media. No matter what it looks like when you pass someone in the grocery store or read their how-to book or talk to them in passing.
Caregiving is trial and error: will she eat this food for lunch today? Will this new lift transition to the wheelchair be easier or scarier? Will he yell when I try to bathe him today? Will she try to hit me when I help her with her coffee mug?
Humans are flawed, therefore caring for fellow humans will inevitably be flawed. Embrace the mistakes. View them as opportunities to become a better caregiver.
Any caregiver you talk to will admit that their day 1 was full of mistakes, but so was their day 50; their day 360; their year 10. Being a flawed caregiver doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong; it means you fit the job description perfectly. As long as we’re constantly learning from our daily mistakes, we are successful caregivers.