My nature is generally upbeat. I try to be grateful for my many blessings and not dwell on the negative. However, as a family caregiver, I’m intimately acquainted with difficult days and responsibilities that seem endless. Always aware that I love the people I’ve cared for, there’s still considerable stress and fatigue involved, to say nothing of an occasional pang of “what about me?” I’m assuming most of you can relate.
I’m also assuming that most of you, if you think about it, have had some lighter moments while caregiving, or even some uplifting, life enhancing moments never to be forgotten. I know I’ve had many. Some were chance moments that I could have missed if not for the exquisite timing that life occasionally offers us. Some came less spontaneously. And a few came during otherwise painful moments.
I’m choosing to consciously remember those moments. I hope you’ll take this idea and use it for your own. Make a list of moments that made you happy to be caring for a person you love or even a person you care for professionally. Remembering those moments can swing your attitude from negative to positive. Keeping a list may come in handy when that sweet attitude starts to sour. Here’s my own short list.
- My neighbor Joe was in his 80s, a widower. He loved feeding the birds in his backyard. One day during my visit I said, “Joe, we’re getting you your own bird.” My young sons and I took Joe to a pet shop and Joe picked out a turquoise parakeet he named Nuts. A love affair began that day that lasted until Joe’s death. I believe the bird signified to Joe that he still had a responsibility and some meaning in his life. Memories of the joy he received from his beloved “Nutsie” still make me smile.
- My childless uncle lived in a nursing home near my home. While I visited my uncle daily, once a week I’d pick him up with the car and we’d drive around town looking at flowers and trees. Our university and college campuses were favorite destinations. He especially loved the flowering crabapple trees in the spring because they reminded him of the cherry blossoms in Arlington, Va., where he and my aunt lived for decades. After his last stroke, my uncle’s sense of humor nearly disappeared, but his enjoyment during those drives still brought tears of pleasure to his eyes, and in turn to mine. Those drives provided a small amount of joy during a very difficult time.
- My Dad’s brain was destroyed by failed surgery that sent him into instant dementia. He lived a decade with that dementia before he died. During those years, he had rare moments of clarity that couldn’t be predicted, but when they happened they were magic. Dad’s hazel eyes would suddenly lose their “off in space” look and he’d gaze at me as he had before his surgery. The moment would be brief, but he’d clearly say something meaningful such as, “You make me feel like I have a reason to go on.” He’d quickly disappear into dementia once more, but those times are etched into my soul.
- As my mother’s pain grew nearly unbearable, she could be difficult, as nearly anyone would be. Chronic falls and a failing memory had put her in the same nursing home as Dad. However, there were good times, and during some of those she’d grab my hand and say, “Thank you, Baby. Remember to take care of yourself, too.” Those moments were rare, but priceless to me.
As I list these separate events experienced with different people I’m becoming aware that there are many more uplifting moments with each of my care receivers. The exhaustion of the daily grind, the seemingly unreasonable demands from a person with dementia, the ongoing emergencies – they all have the power to make me forget the amazing gifts I’ve received as a caregiver for people I love. When I remember the positive experiences, those are the memories that shine through.
Take time, when you can, to make your own list of positive moments to treasure. If you do, you’ll likely find the tough times easier to get through.