To all of the amazing caregivers, family and professional, in hospitals, nursing homes, or elsewhere who have been literally risking their health, their very lives and well-being, this is a tribute and salute to you. May you always be aware of the deep gratitude and admiration so strongly felt by all of us for your dedication, caring hearts and sacrifice to help our nation conquer COVID-19.
Blessing for Caregivers written by Karen Bonnell, Music: Stuart Shelton, from the CD Music Dimensions, available on Amazon.com
Are you a family caregiver at the end of your proverbial rope? If the answer is yes, hang on and read on! You have options:
1. You can tie a knot in the end of the rope and hang on for dear life in hopes that some miraculous rescue will occur before your strength gives out and you fall into the abyss of overwhelm, frustration and caregiver burnout below. (I don’t recommend this option, since, in my experience miraculous rescuers are few and I usually go for a more proactive option, anyway. Plus, if you fall and hit the rocks below, it really hurts!)
2. You can tie a noose with the rope and figuratively hang yourself, in essence, giving up your own precious life by giving in to negativity, depression, and despair. By giving up, you shift all responsibility for caregiving to someone else and abdicate your role. (I certainly don’t recommend this option, since I believe whole-heartedly in Life with a capital “L” and that love has amazing powers to heal and keep us whole! But you would be surprised how many people choose this)
3. You can swing on the rope trying to clear the canyon of caregiver destruction beneath you and get on solid ground. (This is a marginally better choice than #1 or #2, but still doesn’t work for me)
4. You can use the rope to make a hammock of support beneath you – a place you can relax, rest and renew your strength, inner resources, and commitment to the caregiving journey. Eventually, your rope hammock can become a rope bridge allowing you to safely navigate across the caregiver chasm and keep your life and sanity in the process. (Now, I admit I am biased, but this is the one I would choose.)
This post is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published ebook, which provides practical tips and gentle self-care and self-nurturing techniques to make life less of a struggle and more of a loving learning experience. If you are tired of struggling and dangling your way through the uncertainties of caregiving, please sign up to receive a release notice when Sanity Savers: For Caregivers at the End of Their Rope is published. Find support for a more balanced, healthy, life-enhancing approach to giving care – a hopeful, positive way that includes you along with your care-receiver.
"Do you mean that people on Uranus can rewind their life experiences and correct them at will?"
The excerpt above is from one of my favorite early books (1983) by one of my favorite authors, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, now with 30 books to his credit. In his classic parable about an alien from Uranus visiting Earth and attempting to understand our strange behaviors which don't reflect our reality, Dr. Dyer uses his trademark wit and wisdom along with his keen psychological insights to make clear how useless our neurotic human behaviors actually are. He manages to do this in a rather delightful and sometimes wickedly funny way.
As a caregiver, I have often longed for a rewind button, when I have either done something really stupid, or said something that I immediately wished I could stuff back in my mouth, usually out of frustration or a total frazzling of my patience. I envied the rewind option available in Gifts from Eykis, on the fictional version of planet Uranus and could imagine myself holding my hands in the "time-out" sign in football and asking God for a "do-over". The best feature of rewind is that you get to repeat the experience having learned enough to modify it accordingly. Now wouldn't that be a handy trick for a caregiver?
And if rewind/do-over actually was an option, it makes perfect sense that it's triggered by guilt. What a concept! Guilt would actually serve a helpful purpose rather than just crushing unsuspecting, well-meaning people under its unwieldy weight. Hmmm.
So, the next time you feel guilty about something concerning your caregiver role -- about anything, big or small, of huge consequence or none -- consider the whole guilt/rewind/do-over thing. Without rewind, guilt does no good at all and actively harms us. So, as caregivers, we need to either release ourselves from guilt by acknowledging that we do the best we can in any situation and, being human, sometimes make mistakes or fall short of our goal. The other thing we can do is lobby for a rewind option on Earth. Somehow, I think forgiving ourselves is the better choice!
What are some of your experiences with guilt, release, self-forgiveness and learning from past mistakes on the caregiving journey? I'd love to hear about them!
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am reflecting on those people, events, blessings which have made life immeasurably richer -- family, friends, beloved pets, experiences that create moments of heart-soaring joy and spiritual transcendence -- for gifts great and small, blessings bright and beautiful, I give thanks!
One of the brightest blessings in my life was my mother, Ann. She passed away this year in January, and her 93rd birthday would have been next week, so I am feeling a very complicated mix of emotions. And it occurs to me that so many caregivers face these jumbled roller-coaster emotions pretty much all the time. I think being willing to be emotionally vulnerable is almost a prerequisite to taking on the role of caregiver. You somehow find a way to blend love, duty, a desire to give, to be compassionate, to let your hands and heart do the work needed to bring tender loving care to another. You have to find a balance in the juxtaposition of both opening the heart and shielding it to protect it from being crushed and shattered. It is not an easy task. And yet it is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have, in my opinion.
The key words about caregiving that come up repeatedly for me are compassion, vulnerability, stamina, and acceptance. You need them all in just about equal measure in order to keep your balance and not lose your own sense of self while caring for another. So, I picture these qualities as the legs on a table of caregiving -- if they are equal, the table top is evenly "balanced", strong and stable and it can bear a great deal of weight (and many blessings, too!). If not, things slip off and hit the floor, and shatter into a million pieces. Things like your sanity, peace of mind, self-esteem, health, and other really important stuff. Compassion and vulnerability are the "softer" emotions you need to draw upon to be loving and effective as a caregiver, while stamina and acceptance are strong qualities that you need to use in order to keep your own health and well-being intact. They all work together to create a good support for both you and your loved one.
So, how do you get your caregiving table in balance? I really wish there was a "one-size-fits-all" answer to this question, but, though there is a lot of advice out there, I think this is something each individual caregiver has to come to terms with in his or her own situation, with regard to the personalities and needs, relationships and responsibilities involved. From my own experience, I would encourage you to keep your heart open, even knowing the risks. Find ways to keep the softer qualities of compassion and vulnerability alive and prevent yourself from hardening as a defense mechanism. (Gratitude and remembering all the good in life, past and present help!) With some practice, this is similar to juggling and it becomes almost automatic. Sometimes it is simply keeping your attention on the balance aspect that is necessary to make it work. Other times, it is reaching out for help (there's vulnerability, again!) Keeping your own spirit strong and nurtured is crucial, and this website is full of ideas and information to help you do that through relieving stress, finding peace and comfort, balancing your own needs and care with that of your loved one.
So, to all the caregivers and to those they love: Wishes for a bountiful, beautiful, balanced table of blessings at Thanksgiving and the same for the caregiving table all year round!
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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