Caregivers and Stress

There are no easy answers. You love or care for another person and there is no way that you can “fix” the person. They may be sick or hurt or in some sort of difficult situation and no matter what you do, you can not make the “challenge” go away. You are, by some definition, a “victim.” You have “no control” over what happens or how your person of concern is going to respond to their situation. Sometimes you have to “just sit on your hands” while the situation “plays out.” I do not like being in this situation. I want to be actively doing something to help, or at least running around trying to get the healing energies flowing, but this does not always prove useful or may not have any degree of success in changing the situation.

Parents feel this way about their children as they put their kids out into the world to live and to learn the lessons of life. People feel this way when their aging parents begin to fail. Spouses will often feel this kind of helplessness when their partner has been impacted by a severe health or financial challenge. Indeed, most of us who have made it into adolescence have experienced relationships that can evoke this feeling of concern without the power or control to save, or at least help, our friend, family member, schoolmate, or co-worker. People are “caring creatures” much of the time. Our need to nurture and care are “higher functioning” activities that often set us apart from other creatures on our planet. But, though we are often born with this desire to nurture, we are not taught how to deal with stress or anxiety of caring for another person (or pet) when we can not really fix the situation.

Caring without having control can cause anxiety and can lead to depression. In my own life, as a caregiver for my wife, I have experienced the closeness that caring can bring to a relationship and yet the stress and depression that can come from a situation that does not come to a positive resolution, is very difficult to live with. As I have advised others, I practice stress and anxiety management. I get regular exercise. I try to eat in a “healthy” way. I maintain friendships that are positive and therapeutic. I keep busy and productive. BUT, I have those moments when I lie awake, with a mind that will not stop its endless chatter, filling me with worry and concern for my beloved partner. There is not much else I can do but worry, but worry is not helpful.

There are times when my consciousness will drift into a place of spiritual insight and feel the power of these lessons. Though my heart is heavy and my mind races with anxious thoughts, deep inside I touch the source of some unclear wisdom regarding the “point” and the lesson that I am struggling to learn. My only thought for you, if you find yourself in this predicament, is to calm yourself as much as possible (not an easy request) and then go deep within to bask in the light of unconditional love. Find and celebrate the lesson. In this case remember that you can not “push the river.” Sometimes we must just find the feeling and the wisdom of acceptance.

And, do not forget your need for self-care to help sustain you through this difficult lesson. Also, celebrate every moment. Try not to live in the past or in the future. As is said, “Be Here Now!”

Please take GOOD care of yourself!

Dilemma of the Caregiver

What are you supposed to do? When you are a caregiver for a person with a terminal illness and you want to provide assistance no matter what the patient wants. At some point, a choice will be made to end treatment and begin “end of life” hospice support. If you are family to a terminally ill person, you may not want them to die but you may have to support the decision to prepare for the “end.” This can be the definition of ambivalence. And, to what extremes do you decide to participate??? 100% 50% or what??? How can you LIVE with yourself and the extent of your participation? Do you want to feel like you did everything possible for your loved one, or, for yourself? “Yourself” may have different requirements of 100% participation… A true conflict….

It is hard to know what is expected and to what degree you will feel OK in participation. When my father lay dying from a CVA (stroke), I sat by his bed and told him not to be afraid, to let go, and to embrace the dying experience. He needed this comforting because he was afraid to let go. As a son, I felt horrible about losing my father and yet I was the only person available to support him in “letting go.” (At least, that is how I felt.) My personal loss and pain was “trumped” by the need to serve and support my father.

Almost everyone, who lives long enough, will lose a family member or friend. It is an experience in life that we are often poorly prepared for. Everyone is unique and every situation of personal loss is different. For me, I find myself on a roller coaster with many dimensions. As I write this blog, my wife has been living with a terminal illness for 7 years. The doctors gave her a maximum life expectancy of 5 years at the first diagnosis. We have lived with the nightmare of losing a precious life well before she is prepared to go. She has done everything she could afford (mental, emotionally, spiritually, financially) to do to maintain her life. We are beginning to lose this battle. Her cancer is beginning to wear us down and to win. I have very little control and I do not want to lose my bride and my life partner. I want to do my part of supporting her as well as I can. The dilemma for me is what am I supposed to do? Do I tell her to fight or, do I assist her to “let go”? How will I be able to live with myself, no matter which way I go??? So far, I have tried to follow her lead and to help her to do what she has done in the first 7 years which is to fight the cancer, but there are emotional and spiritual changes beginning. She is not avoiding the discussion regarding the “end of life” choices that we may need to make. Though, intellectually I knew that this time would come, it is very difficult for me to transition to fully, 100%, support her process of letting go.

I know that I will do what is necessary, but the ambivalence is confusing me and this roller coaster ride is not the kind of fun that I would easily recommend. The learning from this process is intense and I know that I am not the first person to move through the caregivers’ dilemma. I am not the first man to be in the process of losing his wife, but this is the first time I have ever lost a partner of all these years. A lesson to be learned, and relearned, is to appreciate everyday and live every moment as if it might be the last….

Hug your family and friends… Tell them that you love them.

This blog was written in 2010 about 15 months before my wife passed. The dilemma for others who find themselves in the role of a caregiver to a friend or family member is not unique to my situation. Please take good care of yourself and enjoy every minute you can share…

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