Lately, I find myself surrounded by people who have to be the caregiver for a family member. There is no good time to receive the bad news that a loved one may need your constant attention. One person has to sacrifice opportunities, jobs, creative projects, time for themselves, outings with friends, vacations, living space, and lifestyle routines to put someone else first. Their choices vanish in an instant, and they can feel put upon.
And it’s not fair, to the caregiver or the person requiring help.
The caregiver is often blindsided and overwhelmed by the prospect, seeing only the volume of work ahead and what they must leave behind. Resentment settles into their core and they have difficulty coping. They are often alone in their duties. No one pats them on the back and tells them how wonderful and appreciated they are. When they need to talk through their frustrations, friends respond with sympathy that comes off more like pity, while being grateful to not be in that position. Odds are that their time will come.
Every situation is different. Every person’s medical issues, needs, emotions, and responses to medications are different. So when someone says they understand, they really don’t.
And the person being cared for feels powerless, no longer self-sufficient, and guilty for altering the life of the caregiver. They carry a burden that goes un-communicated and unrelieved. Their choices are limited to capabilities, environment, and the amount of assistance they require to do the most mundane tasks. They feel as if they are being treated like children, and some shift into behaving as such. Who could blame them?
It’s not fair. Nothing about it is fair.
And as unfair as life is, it can be equally just. But you have to work for it.
Oh, easy for you to say! It’s not happening to you.
Not yet. I like to think I have what it takes to step up the plate.
Life is like the weather. It comes at you whether you are prepared or not. And how can one prepare for such inevitability? If an earthquake shakes your home without warning, you have two choices: ride it out in the strongest room, or run outside and hope something larger doesn’t fall on you. Same goes for the weather report of an ailing relative. You can do the best you can, prepared or not, or you can run away and leave the problem for someone else.
Many don’t have a choice. They either can’t bring themselves to run away, or can’t afford to. Others hire professionals, or institutionalize the person because they don’t have the resources to handle it. No personal circumstances are the same. No choice is easy.
And it’s not fair.
The only way to go through such a life-altering event is to be fully present and find the good stuff meant just for you. You are benefitting in some way, whether you recognize it or not. What are you learning from this? Becoming as a result? Find the gain through the pain, the soul through the sadness, and your own inner hero.
Oh, you’ve seen the movies and read the books and imagined being the hero of some dramatic scenario. Now is your chance. You’re in it. You don’t have a choice. The only way out is through. Wrap your head around it, accept it, and plow forward. You might as well make lemonade out of the lemons you have, even if they are oranges. Use your resources and find a little moments of joy and gratitude. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, hating how much your life has changed, accept the truth of it and know that you were selected for the task. Any negative emotions you entertain will only drain your energy. And you’ll need all your resources because . . .
Life isn’t fair, to you or your charge.
And old Rolling Stone song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”
And sometimes you need to discover you are capable of so much more than you imagined. Be available and aware. This may be the most important thing you’ve ever done. Own the heroic moments that go seemingly unnoticed. You may not be changing the world with your gifts and talents as you’d hoped, but your sacrifice means the world to the person you are caring for. You honor them with your life, as they deserve – as we all deserve. This may be the strongest, most valuable relationship you’ll ever experience. Recognize it. Step into the challenge with grace and discover how amazing you can be.
But remember to ask for help. And even heroes have allies behind the scenes.