Last summer, we kicked off our very first ABCs of Caregiving campaign on social media. It was so popular we brought it back for another season, and we love hearing the ways each letter and lesson resonate with you. Here, we’ve compiled the caregiving lessons from letters G through M. Credit for these reflections goes to Eliza Brown (G, I, J, K, M) and Latia Johnson (H and L).
G is for Grief
Something that I’ve struggled a lot with over the years has been anticipatory grief. Some days it hits me like a ton of bricks. Mostly at nighttime.
Taking care of my grandmother over the span of so many different stages of care has allowed me to be acutely aware of her declines. And while this is good for her care, it’s also incredibly difficult to handle emotionally. And some days it’s impossible to ignore the fact that she won’t be here forever, and that one day I will have to relearn life without her.
I think anticipatory grief is incredibly natural for caregivers, because we have it so engrained in our brains to constantly be thinking ahead and planning ahead, and preparing for “worst case scenarios.”
So of course, if we are caring for someone on hospice, we are thinking about their end of life.
But grief is heavy. And it’s something that isn’t fun to talk about, but it’s so important to process.
Have you experienced anticipatory grief? How does it look different for a caregiver who isn’t an elder-care caregiver?
H is for Humble
Oftentimes, we put so much on our plates as caregivers that it is hard to balance, and everything comes crashing down and causes even more chaos and heartache.
As caregivers we have to allow ourselves love, grace and humility to ask for help.
Asking for help does not mean we are weak. Asking for help means we want to see everyone in our life we care for receiving the proper attention.
We, as caregivers, cannot forget about ourselves as well. As caregivers we must be gentle with our own feelings and mental well-being. To be humble is to see the big picture.
As caregivers, we must remind ourselves we are humans and it is okay to ask for us. It is okay to be vulnerable. It is okay to sometimes not be okay.
We are living in a time of uncertainty and in this time we must be brave and reach out our hand and allow someone to pick us up. We are all in this together and no one should ever feel alone.
I is for Ignore
Caregiving is a little like (and sometimes goes hand-in-hand with) parenting in the sense that you can’t compare yourself to other caregivers.
You can’t compare your bad, end-of-your-rope day with someone else’s regular, routine Wednesday. You can’t compare your on-track Tuesday with someone else’s pulling-their-hair-out Tuesday.
You have to ignore the urge to compare. Ignore the picture-perfect caregivers you see online because you know what? That’s just what they are: PICTURE perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect caregiver in real life. Ignore the idea that life might be easier for someone else, ignore the idea that somebody would be a better caregiver in your scenario, ignore the thoughts that make you feel less-than. Because those thoughts have no place in the busy mind of a caregiver.
J is for Jolt
To be jolted is to be pushed abruptly or shaken roughly. Sound familiar?
My mom and I, who care for my grandmother together, often say to each other that we forget what it’s like to have two days that are alike. There seems to be an emergency every day. And that is DRAINING.
We don’t know what it’s like to have a normal schedule — one where you know what to expect and can go to bed relaxed, wake up refreshed and go about the day’s tasks. Because our “normal” the past few years has been this: expect to be jolted at least once every day. But probably more.
Being a caregiver is like trying to adjust to whiplash. Your brain is constantly trying to keep up with your body; your emotions are constantly trying to keep up with your brain, and you feel like you’re in a million places at once! Can you relate? Have you been jolted in your caregiving life recently?
K is for Kind
Perhaps the simplest word so far in our ABCs of Caregiving, yet often the most difficult to uphold.
Caregiving is often spending a lot of time on the brink of your patience. And that’s a difficult place to be kind.
Repeating yourself countless times. Answering endless questions. Dealing with the same health issues over and over again. Medication changes. Schedule mix-ups. Advocating. It’s all exhausting, it all tests our patience.
But to be kind in the midst of the mayhem…that’s what makes caregivers caregivers.
To be exhausted and frustrated and at rock-bottom and to still be kind is a rather extraordinary quality.
So your challenge today is a simple-yet-profound one: be kind.
L is for Learn
Learning is not meant just for the classroom. We are continually being taught every day, and sometimes we don’t even realize it. The world and life experiences are our teachers.
In life, we have to learn how to change roles. We may have always looked at our parents or a loved one as the family leader—the one who took care of everyone and everything. Now, times have changed; a diagnosis may have altered several lives and their lifestyles.
But the challenge is accepted whether you wanted to or not. You knew in your heart what needed to be done. And so, you learn to no longer be a child to your parent, but a caregiver. It is a new experience both you and your loved one have to learn and grow through. Learning sometimes can tear a person or group of people down, but that is only to rebuild them and see a new way of life. We are constantly learning how to change our mindsets, erase old habits, and with that create new life roles.
Some days we are the teacher, and other days we are the student. But the final take away is that a lesson was taught and also learned.
M is for Malleable
A metal that is malleable can be beaten and pressed out of shape without breaking. A caregiver is like that too.
Of the 100 things a caregiver does in a day, 99 of them are bending her or him into a shape that isn’t comfortable. A shape that is new, unfamiliar, painful, confusing.
Instead of shattering under pressure like a piece of glass, caregivers bend to adjust like a piece of metal.
Caregivers are metal: strong yet malleable.