So it is with great effort that I say in a sweet and gentle way that I am a little angry right now. It has to do with caregiving. Well, more that just caregiving. Guilt trips, manipulation, never being satisfied, and all manner of crappy stuff that caregivers often deal with on top of the actual caregiving responsibilities.
Stepping up to be the (usually) one person who helps often means serving as a toxic waste dump for all the unhappiness, grief, loneliness, depression, anger, and helplessness that the person you're caring for is experiencing. The irony of this is that the rest of the family gets off nearly scot-free. No extra work for them and freedom from all the extraneous emotional stuff that comes with frequent contact with an unhappy person.
And that's not fair, y'all.
I think people become caregivers for three reasons.
1. There's literally no one else. Maybe the rest of the family lives far away and Mom doesn't want to move, or you're an only child and your parents don't have the money to hire someone to help.
2. Guilt. "I can't turn my back on him after all he did for me." "If I don't help, I won't be able to live with myself after she's gone." "What kind of person would I be if I leave his care to strangers?"
3. A total lack of awareness of what caregiving entails.
Perhaps caregivers would have an easier time if they entered the role with a realistic picture of what the life of a caregiver is like. Because one of the most painful parts of being a caregiver is the shattering of the illusion of the ideal. You think, We'll grow even closer!, or, It will feel great to be able to help Grandma. For some people, that might be true. But another truth is that your relationship with your ill family member will never be the same. It gets very complicated. Sometimes the relationship breaks down completely, and then there's a loss (of a close relationship) before the final loss (death). Caregiving isn't for the faint of heart.
As a public service, I've created a job description for family caregivers.
WANTED: FAMILY CAREGIVER
Hours: On-call 24/7; active duty - a little longer than you're willing/able
Benefits: job security; familiarity with Medicare, Social Security, and Depends way before your peers; the satisfaction of doing the right thing; self-righteous assurance of your own moral superiority
-gently but firmly steer family member toward safe choices (use walker, no smoking while on oxygen, accept help while bathing, etc.)
-remind and then demand regular bathing
-endure regular guilt trips and occasional verbal abuse
-fight occasional food battles (family member may refuse to eat if you are not present)
-accept the expectation that most of your plans will include your family member
-accept the fact that although you are the only one providing care, you will be the bad guy
-endure complaints and criticism made about you to other family members
-constant availability for emergencies
-constant availability for grocery store runs
-wait at appointments
-wait on hold with various agencies, companies, and offices
-pay bills, do paperwork, run errands
-remain silent when you are told by other family members that you have done more than anyone expects and that you are not required to do anymore (note absence of offer to help)
-endure complaints about food no matter who cooks it, how good it tastes, or how free it is
-accept a lower sex drive and less tolerance for the needs of the other people in your life
-accept that what you do will never be enough
Special Skills Required:
-excellent organizational skills
-superhuman tolerance for manipulation
-100% confidence that you will not go postal on your loved one--ever
-the ability to maintain your own capacity for joy
I know that family caregivers are absolutely necessary. I consider it an obligation. And more than that, I believe that it's what God wants us to do.
But that doesn't make it easy.
Next on my reading list: