Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's Been 10 Years ...

They say that time heals all wounds. There is truth to that; however, there are some wounds which take longer to heal than others.

I was reminded of this earlier this afternoon when I shared a story about my father to my writing group. This story was a Christmas memory from many years ago. Following our Christmas dinner, Dad began a game of catch with my nephew's basketball. Dad's participation amazed me as, at the time, he had advanced Alzheimer's disease and had forgotten much of his previous life (including his own family). Despite this, he clearly remembered what fun you could have with a ball.

I managed to read the majority of my story without incident; however, I struggled at one point to fight back tears. While our familial game of Christmas catch happened 11 years ago, and Dad's death occurred 10 years ago, I still have regrets over the loss. Dad was always private - I know precious little about his own childhood and upbringing simply because Dad never talked about it. I also know very little about Dad's beliefs and values. While I have lost Dad, I feel that I have also lost the opportunity to truly know him and feel intense regret.

All of this is getting easier to accept; however, I believe that one never truly forgets. Acceptance does get easier over time; however, the connection remains. Remembering a person results in honouring that person. It's been 10 years since I lost my father ... I can't see myself forgetting that soon (nor do I want to forget ...).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Picking Up The Pieces

Picking up the pieces after a loved one passes away is rarely easy. Rightfully so, as you have had a strong emotional relationship with this person (whether a parent, good friend or spouse/partner) and cared for him/her for months or even years. No matter who you are or where you are in your caregiving, there is a lot of "you" devoted to the job ... when the non-stop running suddenly ends (when a loved one dies), where does that leave you?

With having provided care for both of my aging parents, I well remember my own response after they died. I felt lost, empty and alone (these feelings intensified after Dad passed as neither parent remained alive - I felt orphaned!). I wandered aimlessly - simply to escape the walls of my home. My mind raced with final memories and I could not fully concentrate on anything else.

Grieving at this time is to be expected. It is a natural process which takes time, so allow yourself time to do so. But do not forget that you must carry on and you can help yourself do so and, eventually, heal.

Some time after Dad's death, I learned of a bereavement support group and, tentatively, signed up. Although I wasn't sure of what to expect (nor of my own willingness to participate), this turned out to one of the best moves I could make at that time. I remember our group was very supportive and the group leader was both caring and patient. Although it took some coaxing, each of us was invited to open up with the others ... we could do so in any way we felt fit, whether by writing a letter to our deceased loved one, creating collages and/or sharing special mementos. There were tears shed, but doing so proved to be very therapeutic.

My message here is simple; you will slide somewhat after a death, but it's important to, once again, pick up the pieces in your own life and carry on. Sharing with others in a bereavement group is just one way to do this - feel free to explore other opportunities and do so in whatever manner which is most comfortable for you. Also, don't allow anyone to rush your grieving ... it is a personal process.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sandwich Generation Caregivers - A Special Breed

As mentioned previously, anyone can become a caregiver at any time. Different experiences will affect a caregiver's role and impact with another as well as that caregiver's personal life and well-being. I'd like to spend some time to focus on the the "sandwich generation" caregiver - an individual who, typically, feels more pressure and demands than others.

The so-called "sandwich generation" caregivers are those caught between two generations ... they are in a relationship with children but also have been called upon to help aging parents. Both parties are very important, but how can one person be in two different places at one time? You simply cannot always drive your child to a friend's place, monitor his/her homework, participate in play or protect him/her from a schoolyard bully when you are also required to take Mom/Dad to a doctor's appointment or even put on a pair of shoes.

Without having children of my own, I consider myself fortunate when I was a co-caregiver for both of my own senior parents. I did, however, view how my older sister (with two children) was often torn between her obligations. Children and aging parents both have demands to be met - but who takes priority? Not too mention, caregivers must also consider their own self-care and must avoid doing too much.

How can you make it work?

Seek balance: Looking after yourself is always vital for caregivers. but it becomes even more important when you are of the "sandwich generation". This has to be one of the most difficult lessons for a caregiver to learn. Whatever you can do in remembering you and your own needs should become a priority. While you will be asked to be in different places at one time, you, realistically, cannot do so and must learn to say "no". Your own personal health cannot be overlooked - in fact, without properly looking after yourself, you cannot properly look after another person (young or old). You don't have to go to great extremes to look after yourself. Try going for a walk in the park, meeting a friend for coffee or spending an hour browsing through a museum. Anything you can do to break away from your own caregiving responsibilities will be therapeutic (mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally).

Involve your own family: Depending on your children's ages, perhaps they could become more involved? Ask them to tidy up around the house, help out with making dinner or visit Grandma/Grandpa in a long-term care centre. If your children are able to do this, it will lighten your own work load and make things easier. By all means, also involve your significant other/spouse/partner as well. If nothing else, explain to him/her what you are experiencing and ask for understanding and support. Create a weekly schedule for your own family and, by all means, delegate tasks to others to complete.

Seek professional assistance: Depending on your own financial situation, hiring a personal caregiver to visit with Mom/Dad and tend to daily needs can be well worth it. Another option might be a day program (offered through senior's associations or local hospitals) where Mom/Dad can go to for a day or so per week. Healthcare staff will safely monitor your loved one and allow you some time away - I did this with my own father and was amazed how much better I felt with knowing that Dad was being well looked after.

As a "sandwich generation" caregiver, you can be in a precarious position as you are, essentially, trying to juggle the care and lives of many others: your children, your parents and yourself. There can also be increased demands placed on your career and relationships. By trying to stretch yourself as far as possible, something will, eventually, break. Step back, acknowledge that you are only one person and admit that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot get your daughter to dance class, pick up some groceries and make sure that Mom/Dad's shoelaces are securely tied all simultaneously.
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