Caregivers deserve kindness, support and empathy. That’s often the opposite of a caregivers daily experience. The general public isn’t drawn to sad, unexpected or unpleasant events in life. Sad events happen only to other people: a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a parent or loved one, an injury from a car accident. If caregivers talk about negative or unpleasant events, friends or acquaintances turn away because the subject matter is uncomfortable and they don’t know how to respond in words.
I can clear a room in a few minutes when I start talking about the realities of caregiving with non-caregivers. The looks on their faces and their body language tell me how uncomfortable they are by the subject matter. Yet, they’re the ones who asked what I do for a living and then minutes later regret the question. Sometimes I’ll run on a bit about the subject of caregiving, on purpose, just to see their reactions. I feel the rejection many caregivers experience when they relay their stories and feel the sting of isolation when they realize the other person has no interest in their experience.
It’s a similar experience to asking someone how they are. Most people politely say “great” and the conversation moves on. How do we feel when someone actually gives an honest answer and a troubled story ensues? Many of us are sorry we even asked because the response isn’t what we expected and even though we asked, we didn’t really want to hear any response but “great”.
Most people would rather spend time in pleasant endeavors that are positive and attractive like going to a movie, watching a stand up comedian, going to the gym or getting a massage. Persons who become caregivers feel overwhelmed and isolated because of the extent of caregiving activities that take up entire days and weeks and months of their lives. Caregiving is an unknown. Caregivers hide their feelings, and sometimes even their caregiving experience because they don’t want friends to know what’s realy happening in their lives.
Spousal caregivers, if children are not available, can become prisoners in their own home if they are caring for a loved one who requires constant care and cannot be left alone. Many adult children caregivers give up their homes or careers to move in with parents to care for them. Caregiving quickly becomes a 24 hour a day job with little relief.
Caregiving isn’t a role we expect in our lifetime. Caregiving is work, it’s stressful. Unless you’ve been a caregiver you may not know how to respond to a person who is a caregiver. When the subject is mentioned in casual conversation, non-caregivers become speechless and wish they could run the other way. Non-caregivers don’t want to hear about the experiences of caregivers; they think caregiving will never happen to them so the conversation isn’t relevant. Non-caregivers avoid the unpleasant subject matter and eventualy stop visiting and calling their now caregiver friends. Little do they realize, they one day will likely be a caregiver.
At one time or another in our lives we all will become caregivers. The reality of life is that we will all die. More than likely we’ll lose our parents before brothers or sisters. If you meet a caregiver, realize that a few words of kindness and empathy go a long way. Realize that even if this isn’t your current life experience, you one day may be a caregiver whose day may be brightened by a kind word or a person who listened, if even for only a few moments.