September 21, 2009 by David Gillaspie
When we learn the facts of life the part about aging never comes up. “You’ll understand when you get older” is as close as it gets. I’m fifty four. That should be old enough. But I still don’t get ‘it.’
The Sandwich Generation means more to me than a book or newspaper story. For five years I worked between my father in law’s Parkinson’s, dementia, and cancer, and my kids’ school and sports. Time rolled along, my father in law passed and my kids are in college, but I still don’t know how those five years worked out.
Did I cheat my kids out of my full attention? Did I neglect my wife for caregiving duties? Did I ignore my own needs? These are the questions the family caregiver lives with; these are the issues they juggle.
Aging means one thing. Pick up a new calendar in January and flip through to the next January. That’s aging. That’s one year. But it’s more. What events and challenges will the year hold? How will you address them? Who will pick up the slack if you tighten up your act?
The question looms: Who is your back-up. The family caregiver needs back-up, but for the most part they will get it done on their own. They always have gone it alone. The family core is strong enough to overcome any obstacles. In many respects taking on caregiving chores is an act of pioneering.
First you build a shelter of hope to withstand the ravages of the coming storms. You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows, and you don’t need Bob Dylan singing a forecast.
Hope is based on trust, but what is trust to a family caregiver with a loved one on the edge? Trust is showing up. Trust is being there when you’re needed and when you’re not. Trust is making the difficult seem routine.
After building a shelter you plant seeds of enthusiasm. What does enthusiasm have to do with caregiving? The short answer is everything. For a primer, tune into the locker room talks before a football game. Listen to the players and coaches get pumped up. Their enthusiasm is contagious. It is also their buffer against the pain and discomfort every football game delivers to the participants.
If there is a lesson to learn about caregiving, athletics make an effective classroom. Sport asks you to perform. The barrier to top performance is being injured or being hurt. What’s the difference? You play hurt; you don’t play injured.
Family caregivers work with injured loved ones. In the game of life you go whether you are hurt or injured. There’s no time-out. Parkinson’s has no cure, only treatment that slows the effects of the disease. It is the opponent who never takes time off, the foe who never lets down. When you notice your loved getting beat down you’ll need to take steps. Shouting “You can dew eet” like a Romanian gymnastic coach to a teenager on the balance beam is helpful, but not always effective.
Enthusiasm in sport is geared for one thing: Be Ready. When the whistle blows, be ready. When the referee drops his hand, be ready. We’re talking about emotions. Two competitors do battle and if things are equal, the one with the emotional edge, the one who is most ready, comes away victorious. It’s the same for the family caregiver.
The loved one with the emotional support wins the day. The one with the caregiver who brings their A-game to the task rises to the occasion whether is simply standing up, walking, or eating. Prepping a loved one for dinner like Vince Lombardi rallying his team might seem over the top, but remember the family caregiver mantra, “Whatever it takes.”
Who can do whatever it takes? You can. Who can face unyielding odds? You can. Who is squeezed into the Sandwich Generation tighter than expected? You are. In our modern world of fast change and planned obsolescence, one thing never changes: Your willingness to meet every task head on and your skill at making your loved one your back-up. Make them part of the team and they will play hurt or injured.
Who does this? You, that’s who.