By: Shawn Miyake, President & CEO, Keiro
My encouragement to all caregivers is to give yourself the emotional space to feel overwhelmed, unsure, and angry.
The caregiving journey is one that many of us will face sometime in our lives. Despite the fact that some of us can claim to be caregiving experts based on our professional training, experiencing caregiving firsthand is actually quite a different and eye-opening experience.
My father spent a brief time in a hospital and then a nursing home before he passed away. The whole process lasted only a few months. I felt quite the professional, whipping around managing and coordinating for all of his care needs. I could confidently think of the reasons why he had to go to a particular hospital or physician’s group and then a particular nursing home based on the managed care contracts connected to the health plan he had. This all seemed so easy, just like I had been teaching other family members to do in our community for years. I had my mother and my wife to help with my dad, make calls to the insurance company, follow up with the doctors, explain to friends what was going on, and visit my dad.
My mother was quite a different experience. She had been falling at home more since my dad passed away, which caused our family increasing concern. Our family had all begun to see subtle functional declines. Many of my siblings would call and ask my opinion regarding what was happening to my mother and how we would know when we needed to do something different. Of course I had an opinion but could not foretell the future any better than anyone else could. Then the “event” happened. The “event” was something we all dreaded – you know, the one thing that would happen to my mother that would tell us that it was time to do something different for her. Well, it happened a few months ago. She fell at home. My wife and I would call her regularly, and this time she did not respond to any of our phone calls or messages which was unusual for her. So my wife encouraged me to stop by her home to check on her on my way to work.
I found her on the floor. She likely had been there all night. She was dazed and confused. The ambulance took her to the hospital, after which she went to a nursing home for a few months. It was very clear that she would not be able to return home. After discussing the situation with her, we decided to have her move to a small residential care facility near our home. The process of making that decision was a difficult one for us and my mom. I credit her with the strength to accept the changes, which were many. A major benefit of that decision has been that we enjoy more time with her now living so close to us.
My encouragement to all caregivers is to give yourself the emotional space to feel overwhelmed, unsure, and angry. The caregiving experience even for caregiving professionals is complex, overwhelming, and filled with uncertainties. Those who have never been intimately involved in the caregiving experience will find it difficult to understand what it really takes to be a caregiver, let alone empathize with you about your experience. Your sacrificial experience shared with many other caregivers places you in a unique group of people who understand your challenges and stresses and share in your joy between the exhaustion and tears of loving your family member like no other.
If you are entering the caregiving experience for the first time, I suggest you read When the Time Comes by Paula Span, who provides words that will help you appreciate the journey you are on and give you insight into what possibly lies ahead. And don’t be afraid to have honest conversations with other caregivers – we really do understand.
Helpful Caregiving Resources:
About the Author:
Shawn Miyake is President and Chief Executive Officer of Keiro. He is a lifelong older adult and caregiver advocate who strongly believes that the open discussion of experiences which impact older adults leads to better understanding of the aging experience and improved quality of life.
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