Caregiver dilemma: I’m scared of doing it wrong

Becoming a caregiver for someone you love can be a wonderful, but terrifying experience.  If you approach the experience with a deep love for your family member and the determination to make sure they are safe, loved and fulfilled as a human being should be then you will be wonderful as a caregiver!integrity

My most terrifying moment as a caregiver was the day we brought Dad back home.  He’d arrived via medical transportation and shortly afterwards I was alone with him for the first time.  I stood there scared beyond everything.

I was completely responsible for Dad’s health and well-being.  I had completed the coursework, testing and clinical experience required by my state to do this work.  I even had the little piece of paper to prove it!

But as I stood by Dad’s bedside that fateful afternoon I was nearly paralyzed with fear.  I was scared that I would do something wrong.  I was worried that I would cause him unnecessary harm with my ineptitude.

I took a deep breath.  I exhaled.  I did it a few more times – just to make sure I could.  I decided to start with the basics of caregiving.

I took Dad’s hand, told him that I was going to do my best for him and that I may have a bit of a learning curve.  I let him know that everything was going to be ok.  I spent several minutes talking to him, holding his hand and comforting him.

In comforting Dad I found that I was also comforted.  In telling him everything would be ok I felt that it would be ok.

I began to relax.  The fear that had frozen me dissipated and I was able to begin providing the personal care Dad needed.

There were times I made some mistakes, those mistakes didn’t make his condition worse.  The mistakes were a part of my learning curve and I did learn from them.  I used these lessons to provide even better care for Dad.

In the end I knew I had done everything I could to honor my father.  I had given him the care he needed.  I had ensured that his final days, weeks and months had been spent surrounded by love.  I do not regret forcing myself through my paralyzing fear – I would do it a thousand times over.

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If your days on Earth were numbered, what would you want to do most?

This question is sometimes talked about, but when push comes to shove what would you really like to do as your time comes to an end?

For most of us it would involve an activity we enjoyed, perhaps where we felt the most peaceful within ourselves and with the world.

This Vietnam vet requested to do just that … he wanted to go fishing one last time.   I’m sure it took some inventive thinking and extra effort on the part of this man’s family, friends and caregivers but they made sure it happened for him.

Why?  Why do this?  Simply for this reason: make every moment count.  Take every day you have whether 1 or 100,000 or 1 million and find joy in the living of that day.

Gone Fishin’

How can you do a job like that? I could NEVER do something like that!

love best medicine

When I began my journey as a caregiver I had people asking me how I could do such a thing, that they would never be able to do that.  They wanted to know how I could stand to see to the most personal needs of my father and then grandfather.  They couldn’t understand how I could find the compassion and patience to spend 30 to 45 minutes feeding my dad four or five times a day.

The simple answer is they’re family and that’s what family does.  The deeper explanation is, they did it for me.  From the time I was born my family has been there caring for me.  THEY changed my diapers.  THEY fed me.  THEY dressed me.  THEY bathed me.  I spit up and threw up on THEM.  I bled on THEM.  When I cried THEY comforted me.  THEY taught me, loved me and encouraged me.  How can I not reciprocate when THEIR time of need comes?

To that people will often concede the point but now that I have lost both Dad and Grandpa they ask why I continue to do this for strangers.

The honest truth is two-fold.  First of all, once I meet the people I am charged with providing care for they are no longer strangers.  They become surrogate family members.  I care for who they are as a person.  I try to learn about who they are, what makes them happy and how to encourage them.   They often have as much of a positive influence on my life as I hopefully have on theirs.

Second, I think of all the people outside of my family who had an impact on who I am today … teachers, neighbors, family friends, camp counselors, clergy, and random strangers providing random acts of kindness.  Most of these people are no longer in my life, but each of the people I care for were the teachers, neighbors, family friend, camp counselor, clergy or random stranger providing random acts of kindness for someone else.  So in my mind, in some odd concept of karma or whatever way you’d put it, I am returning the favor to a stranger in hopes that someone else is doing the same for those non-family members who had a positive influence on my life.

I have another reason for doing what I do.  I have seven wonderful nephews and four awesome nieces.   I believe the best way to show the future generation how to be compassionate, active, caring adults is by example.  I hope that by demonstrating to them how we should care for our family and strangers that I will have done my part to make the future just that much brighter.

So, to answer the question “How can I do something like what I do?”

I do it joyfully with hope, compassion and love.

Caregiver dilemma: I’m scared of doing it wrong

Becoming a caregiver for someone you love can be a wonderful, but terrifying experience.  If you approach the experience with a deep love for your family member and the determination to make sure they are safe, loved and fulfilled as a human being should be then you will be wonderful as a caregiver!

integrity

My most terrifying moment as a caregiver was the day we brought Dad back home.  He’d arrived via medical transportation and shortly afterwards I was alone with him for the first time.  I stood there scared beyond everything.

I was completely responsible for Dad’s health and well-being.  I had completed the coursework, testing and clinical experience required by my state to do this work.  I even had the little piece of paper to prove it!

But as I stood by Dad’s bedside that fateful afternoon I was nearly paralyzed with fear.  I was scared that I would do something wrong.  I was worried that I would cause him unnecessary harm with my ineptitude.

I took a deep breath.  I exhaled.  I did it a few more times – just to make sure I could.  I decided to start with the basics of caregiving.

I took Dad’s hand, told him that I was going to do my best for him and that I may have a bit of a learning curve.  I let him know that everything was going to be ok.  I spent several minutes talking to him, holding his hand and comforting him.

In comforting Dad I found that I was also comforted.  In telling him everything would be ok I felt that it would be ok.

I began to relax.  The fear that had frozen me dissipated and I was able to begin providing the personal care Dad needed.

There were times I made some mistakes, those mistakes didn’t make his condition worse.  The mistakes were a part of my learning curve and I did learn from them.  I used these lessons to provide even better care for Dad.

In the end I knew I had done everything I could to honor my father.  I had given him the care he needed.  I had ensured that his final days, weeks and months had been spent surrounded by love.  I do not regret forcing myself through my paralyzing fear – I would do it a thousand times over.

If your days on Earth were numbered, what would you want to do most?

This question is sometimes talked about, but when push comes to shove what would you really like to do as your time comes to an end?

For most of us it would involve an activity we enjoyed, perhaps where we felt the most peaceful within ourselves and with the world.

This Vietnam vet requested to do just that … he wanted to go fishing one last time.   I’m sure it took some inventive thinking and extra effort on the part of this man’s family, friends and caregivers but they made sure it happened for him.

Why?  Why do this?  Simply for this reason: make every moment count.  Take every day you have whether 1 or 100,000 or 1 million and find joy in the living of that day.

Gone Fishin’

Home safety

I have spoken about home safety in the past, but I’d like to bring up a couple of specific things today.

Today more and more seniors choose to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.  There are many good reasons for this, first it can be less expensive than moving into retirement or nursing facilities.  Second, when they are in a familiar environment they are able to feel more comfortable and are less likely to become depressed.

The most important thing to remember when making the decision to age in place is whether the home is physically safe to be in.  I’m not referring to structural issues, although that is also a consideration.  I’m talking about fall risks.

Any items piled around on the floors can cause an elderly person to potentially trip and fall.  Even if they’ve always had that pile of stuff there as we age our depth perception and balance start to fade.  So the pile they’ve always stepped over will one day trip them up.

Making sure that all walk ways are free and clear of all debris and clutter is one step to making the home safer.

Another important potential trip hazard to clear away are throw rugs or area rugs.  Your elderly loved one may not be able to lift their feet properly when walking and get tripped up by the rug.

If there are tears or rips in carpeting or if the transition area between tile or laminate and carpeting isn’t secured down, these need to be repaired or the whole carpet replaced.  Once again, these are tripping points.

A large number of falls in the home happen in the bathroom.  Look into installing grab bars near the toilet and in the shower.  These should be properly mounted in order to safely take the weight of your loved one.

Transfer poles are also helpful.  These floor to ceiling poles offer support for standing.  They are helpful next to the bed and/or next to a favorite chair.

Electric lift chairs are very handy in getting a senior citizen to the point of standing.  They also recline via the electric motor.  There are many different styles both on the decor side of things and how many bells and whistles come with it, many even include heat and massage.

If there are any steps or stairs in the house it is important to make sure there are secure handrails to use.  At no point in time should anything be left on a step, they should always be clear of any clutter.

If climbing a flight of stairs is physically too taxing it may become necessary to convert a room on the main level into a bedroom or invest in one of the stair chair lifts.

In the kitchen, make sure that plates, cups, bowls and other such eating implements are within easy reach.  As we age we loose muscle tone and reaching above our head becomes more difficult.  At the same time our knees and circulatory system won’t accept bending over for more than at most a few moments.

Once everything is as safe as possible in the physical home, it may be helpful to hire a service to come to provide companionship, housekeeping help, meal preparation and assistance running errands.  Depending on the level of independence of your loved one this may only need to be once or twice a week for a couple of hours.   By starting this kind of light assistance early it may help them accept more help if they need additional help with activities of daily living (aka: ADL’s) in the future.

Another good investment of money is for a emergency call button service.  This way if your love one is alone in their home they will have a reliable method to reach out for assistance, especially if they’re unable to reach a phone.

Grieving … just get over it – NOT!

There are many misconceptions about grieving and dealing with the loss of a loved one.  The biggest is that it is a linear process and you will eventually “get over it”.  Grief is individual, it is on-going and while we may get to a place of peace we never “get over it”.

Someone has been taken from your world, someone important to you, and you will feel the loss your whole life.  I don’t say this to depress anyone because things can and will get better.  The pain of loss will diminish, but even years later you will find yourself wishing you could have one more conversation or tell them one more time how much you love them.

I recently found an alternative way of looking at the grieving process and like it quite a bit.  Here’s the diagram:

stages of grief

First of all it indicates more of the emotions and layers of feelings than the traditional “five-stages of grief” line would have us dwell on.  I also like the shape they chose to illustrate.  The shape reminds me a bit of a skateboarding half pipe.  When you look at it and think of a skateboarder riding a half pipe you can imagine the skateboarder reaching one level and going back the other direction to another.  They would be in a constant flux between all of the points of the half pipe.

The other thing to take in account with the skateboarder on a half pipe is the importance of remembering to keep moving.  Whether back or forward a skateboarder is happiest when they’re moving, they don’t want to stop in the bottom of the half pipe.  They pass through the bottom on their way but they want to keep moving.

So, the next time someone tells you that you need to “get over” your grief, just tell them you’re riding your skateboard on your half pipe and no one can dictate to you how your ride should go.