Care In Many Colors, pt.1

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October 4, 2009 by David Gillaspie

Shine A Light



People without family caregiving experience in their lives see it in shades of gray instead of the intense kaleidoscope of normal life.  They shut down when the subject comes up.  They think Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s ‘Stages Of Grief’ is required reading. 

And they are right.  The nursing home seems dark at first, but you get used to it.  The family caregiver’s  home has the same feel to first time visitors.  The difference is that a caregiver knows where the switch is where others don’t think one exists.

The successful family caregiver challenges that reality.  They pull no punches.  If, like my father in law, a loved one catches Parkinson’s, dementia, and cancer, you do something.  A shade of gray?  There’s enough shadow.  You have to act. 

You need to share your kaleidoscope, but take these ten steps so you don’t over do it:

1. Hardest part first: You must convince the rest of the family, since we’re talking about family caregiving, that you know what you’re doing.

If your loved one has a spouse, who is also a loved one, then you convince them both with all the love you can muster.  Do this by sharing caregiving chores.  Sharing is an act of love.  There’s always plenty of laundry and food shopping, so make a list and hand it over with a smile.

If your loved one has children from another marriage, you need to reassure them of your intentions and your skill level.  If they are older they may have wives and ex-wives and kids.  They all need attention.  You don’t want their lasting memory of their old man one of suffering and pain.

If you caregive for an in-law, you’ll have to convince your own parents that you’re doing the right thing.  Don’t go so far that they feel like you’ll never be there for them, but insist that you are the right person for the job at hand.  Don’t tell them you have no idea of the scope of the job; spreading seeds of doubt where there’s already too many isn’t helpful.

If you have kids, welcome to the Sandwich.  If the hope of the world rests with the children, show yours the sort of compassion you have running in your veins.  Tell them it’s in their veins too.  Talk about it enough and you’ll either drive them to other side of the country to live, or they may see themselves as a family caregiver down the road.  You’ll know which way they’re headed soon enough.

10. Easiest part last:  Be yourself.  Be the same person you’ve always been.  Bend your loved one’s routine toward yours.  You’re a family caregiver, not a doctor.  You loved one doesn’t need their condition monitored and discussed.  Make them part of the family.

If your kid comes home with a poor grade on his report card, you don’t call him stupid.  You don’t call up the teacher and tell them they’re stupid either.  You work on it; you work it out.  It’s the same with Parkinson’s, dementia, and cancer.  You work it out by working with it. 

When your loved one seems calm and lucid, or about an hour after the last round of meds, do some physical therapy.  What, you’re not a physical therapist?  Well you are now.  Get your loved one on their feet.  If they can’t stand, help them move their arms.

One way of motivating arm movement is by holding your hands up and letting them tap out punches.  If you know their favorite fighter, pretend you are them and that you’re getting knocked out by your loved one’s shadow boxing.  Give them a tap on the chin and tell them to keep their guard up.  It’s either a genius move, or idiotic, and both open a new conversation.  One topic is other boxers in the favorite fighter’s era; the other is an apology for fighting.

Sharing your life with your loved one is the key to family caregiver happiness.  Share the colors of the rainbow arcing across a cloudy sky.  Anything less is giving in to the gray chill.


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