I posted a blog earlier this month letting people know that November is “National Family Caregivers Month.” This is in recognition of all those people that are caring for a loved one because of who they are, a family member. It may be a child with special needs, an aging parent or a spouse that needs extra attention. These everyday heroes just get up each day and do the next thing that needs to be done. They are not compensated for the tasks they do, it is a natural work birthed out of a deep love for the one in need.
I recently read an article on the subject of grief, “7 Things I Have Learned Since the Loss of My Child” by Angela Miller. It is a good article written by a woman that has experienced the hardest type of grief in my opinion. This article made me ponder the fact that we grieve over many different situations in life, death being the most recognized “Trigger of Grief.” I read a good definition of grief some time ago as ”The process of dealing with the death of a dream.”
Being a caregiver is also a “Trigger of Grief.” What I mean by that is, when we begin to take over care for a loved one, there is generally an “out of the ordinary” circumstance that puts us in the role of a caregiver. Watching our parent’s health decline brings a sense of grief; the one that has always cared for us, now needs us to care for them. We can experience watching our spouse slowly disappear; they may be with us physically, but they slip away from us mentally. For my wife, Joann and me it was when our son was born with multiple unique malformations, we loved him with all our hearts, but the dreams we had for our third child died that day. In all these scenarios the process of grief begins. And at that time and throughout the time of caregiving, the same support is desired as if a loved one has died.
Again, referencing the article, there are ways that we can encourage Family Caregivers as they navigate their roles in caring for their loved ones, in the same way, we would encourage those in grief.
• Recognize the work that they are doing. They are managing a role that is out of the realm of their expertise for most of them. They have had to learn medical terms, medications, take care of physical needs that are, at times, unpleasant. Most caregivers are tired, they are doing the work of two or three full-time jobs: managing the care of their loved ones, keeping up with home duties and many working outside the home. Letting them know you realize they are doing a great job will encourage them so much in that work.
• Talk to them about the work they are doing. Like those that grieve the loss of a loved one, those that are caregivers need to talk about their experiences. There is no need for giving advice or trying to fix them. They just need someone to listen. You may not have a clue what they are going through, but allowing them to speak is a great help to them and may eventually be a great benefit to you.
• Realize their life is not normal. When being a caregiver, you cannot be involved in many of the activities you used to be or would like to be. Friends and family need to understand that their life is different, not worse, just different. Their schedule isn’t normal, there are doctor appointments, therapy sessions, emergencies that need to be addressed. Caregivers would like to be able to do the other things, but they have more pressing obligations. Have an understanding attitude.
Grief is a hard work no matter what the reason. We can be a great encourager to those in grief if we choose to. We never know when it will be our time to grieve.