Caring For The Caregiver - by Judah Gutwein, L.N.H.A.
Regency Nursing Centers, NJ
In the profession of senior healthcare, we are naturally inclined to show compassion towards the patients and residents, who are clinically compromised and require our help.
What about their loved ones who are placing their parent(s) with us, often after years of caring for them? Do we similarly show compassion to them as well?
Unfortunately, this part is often overlooked by many.
“No one can ever be fully prepared for the challenges of care-giving. The tasks and responsibilities involved can be demanding, even more so when caregivers themselves are frail, have been thrust into their role unexpectedly or reluctantly, or must care for someone who is uncooperative or combative.” ---The Merck Manual of Health and Healing
How true are these words!
I sit across the desk from families who are hurting every single day. These are heroes of gentle compassion. And they inspire me. These are folks who have cared for their parent(s) with singular dedication and sleepless nights, for years.
Yet, when faced with the prospect of placing Mom or Dad in a nursing home for long term care, to a word, they become guilt ridden and require our compassion and our empathy, as much as their parents.
We as caregivers ought to ask ourselves, how do we address these very important and critical needs?
The first step is to understand the underpinnings of these feelings of guilt and from where it stems.
It is my assertion based upon experience and research that the feelings of guilt experienced by these folks, in large part, is due to their feelings of not doing enough, being enough and concurrently trying to please everyone. This guilt is further fueled by the fear that they haven’t made the ‘right decision’ with respect to their loved one. They are often already saddled with a pre-conceived notion to avoid nursing homes at all costs. Yet, here they are sitting across from my desk because they simply can no longer handle the burden and rigors of being the primary caregivers 24/7.
So, how do we teach them that it’s ok to cry, that it’s ok to give voice to feelings of concern and insecurity AND that they are not alone.
I would suggest that we need to become their own best advocate and friend, and that we embrace them with an equal measure of compassion and empathy we show to our residents.
I know, it is easier said than done. We need to encourage them to understand and accept their own limitations and the fact that they are, in fact acting in the best interests of their parent by allowing us to help out.
They need to know that they are not relinquishing Mom and Dad into another’s care, but simply inviting us into their lives to help in that process!
We then work with them hand in hand, every step of the way, to ensure that their loved one(s) thrive in our environment with the best possible quality of life!
Additionally, we should encourage them to seek help and a support group from their other family members and loved ones.
To this end, here are several tips I’ve put together:
Self-compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Learn how to let go.
Self-kindness: Be good to your own self! Understand that it is part of the human condition to sometimes experiences feelings of inadequacy and that these feelings in no way diminish our self worth and commitment to those whom we love. Self flagellation helps no one, including you!
Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions and don’t tend to diminish or over-experience your true feelings.
We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.
However, we can choose how to internalize our pain and how to channel it in a manner that allows for personal growth and ultimate healing.
Finally, always remember each day, hour, moment you can renew — try again!