As the author of a book, The Heart Way: A Journey from Corporate to Care, about leaving my robust corporate marketing career to become a full-time caregiver for my aging parents, I thought it might be time to weigh in on this challenging topic so many of us Baby Boomer and senior Vibrant Nation readers and bloggers are dealing with today. Frequently, caregiving is something that comes at us out of nowhere like the proverbial oncoming train. And it usually involves a train wreck of some sort – a bad health diagnosis, a call from the police that Dad’s been found wandering the streets in the middle of the night; a message from the ER that Grandma fell and has suffered a broken hip; learning that one of your siblings had your 85 year-old mom name him as her Power of Attorney and he’s taken all of her money so she has nothing left to support herself during the last years of her life. Sorry, but in my experience, becoming a family caregiver is not for the faint of heart or mind. It’s not about happy endings. And it’s definitely the toughest job I’ve EVER had, which may be why I chose to write about it.
Caregiving wasn’t all bad. It gave me the opportunity to demonstrate unconditional, independent love to my parents. It taught me useful skills and provided a clear understanding of elder law, medication management, housing options for the frail elderly and the importance of ongoing engagement and human interaction vs. being alone in front of a television. It was a treasure chest of learning.
As you can imagine or you may already know, caregiving is hard on even the closest relatives. It tests boundaries, fuels the fire of old rivalries, and sometimes breaks families apart, often over the timeworn topic of money. Caregiving forced me to be brutally honest with my mom and step-dad when they didn’t want honesty. It was an exercise in owning my power without fighting, and in playing a game without the need to win. Serving as my parents’ caregiver brought me closer to my sister, but it severely damaged my relationship with my brother.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” method of taking responsibility for another adult who needs your support. What I discovered and wrote about in my book, is there are qualities each of us possess that we can tap into for a slow and steady drip of sustenance while caregiving. I thought about the qualities that served me and characterized them as eight footprints I was able to lay down on my own journey. I’d like to share them with my friends here on Vibrant Nation, so I have committed to myself to write a series of blog posts over the next couple of weeks, one for each footprint on the path to care.
The first footprint is SELF-ESTEEM. There have been many books written about self-esteem. My favorite is the most basic, a little book titled, How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, by one of my personal heroes, Dr. Nathaniel Branden. I won’t go into details in my book about how I met Dr. Branden, even had lunch with him at The Disneyland Hotel, but I will say that if I had never read his books or learned the lesson from him that I am responsible for how I feel, that I’m the only person who can change me, then I would have lasted about five minutes caring for my parents. Without high self-esteem, we tend to focus on what’s wrong with our lives, rather than what’s good and we lose focus of what we really care about, including ourselves. Self-esteem is not just what you see when you look in the mirror – it’s what you see in the faces of those around you, your own reflection in their eyes.
Before you tackle caregiving, take a self-esteem check. If you’re in the low zone, find a way to bring it up because if you don’t, I guarantee you won’t last long before burning out.
Next footprint along the heart way: COURAGE.
Stay tuned. And please feel free to join the discussion with your comments!