By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG
A woman I know is losing her mind; she has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. However, despite the frustration, anxiety and fear she faces on a daily basis, she remains thankful. Thankful that her family survived the terrors of the concentration camps and was able to journey to the United States. Thankful that she and her husband had a successful tailoring business and raised three children who married and had children.
She spends her days now trying to remember, because as she says, “If I can remember, I feel good about myself.” She lives with her son and daughter-in-law because she is no longer able to care for her own home and with her memory failing she understands that benefit exists in being closer to family.
During the spring and summer months she spends her days gardening and has transformed her son’s backyard into a mini botanic garden. The winters are not as enjoyable because she does not go out as much and fewer people come to visit. On cold days, she sits looking out the window hoping to see someone walking down the street to which she can wave. She realized that she is slowing down physically and mentally. Activities that used to take her thirty minutes now take a couple of hours because as she explains, she becomes distracted and will often forget what it was she was planning to do. Tears glisten in her eyes because she remembers how able she once was and fears that her abilities will continue to decline.
Another couple I work with has an overwhelming sense of “aloneness” as they call it. There is no family nearby; many of their friends have passed away. “We have no one who cares about us.” A wife caring for her sick husband told me that she knows her neighbors but they never stop by because, “well, you know” – as her eyes move to her husband sitting in the chair to my left. He is on oxygen 24 hours a day and has dementia.
Family relationships sometimes become complicated when caregiving becomes a reality because of a sense of duty and a great number of tasks. In all caregiving situations, I remind that it is the tasks that result in family discord over who will do what and when. It is the task work that drains the energy from family caregiving relationships.
In my opinion the most important aspect of caregiving is the relationship with the person needing care. We often miss that time and life become fleeting when caregiving becomes a need. Instead we focus on duty, responsibility and tasks which can become physically and emotionally draining depending on the care need. If we only had the ability to recognize that day one of a caregiving relationship means that we are counting down to the day that our loved one will no longer be with us, many of us might be able to view the relationship differently.
This reality becomes more noticeable when we have a rearview perspective after having remembering the last call or visit with a loved one today gone from our lives. Life is amazing in the way that perspective is gained through loss.
During this season of Thanksgiving and throughout the year offer a small amount of your time to a neighbor or friend. If you have a neighbor, friend or acquaintance who is a caregiver offer an evening or afternoon of your time to them as a caregiver to allow them a break from caregiving responsibilities. While this may seem like a small offering on your part I will tell you that it is significant for an overwhelmed or exhausted caregiver, some who rarely have any time alone. Visit with an older neighbor who, like my client, sat near her window hoping to see someone to whom she could wave.
It’s not until we age that we will realize the emptiness that life presents if we do not have friends or social support. Those of us still able have much to be thankful for – share your thankfulness with the gift of time.
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