The Caregiver's Journey

Written by Alice Reynolds, Regional Director of Operations for the Western Region

You are standing in unfamiliar territory. The rush of emotions scatters your thoughts. Unanswered questions whirl around in your mind. The next decision could be one step in the wrong direction. Where will it lead? It feels as if you are Alice in Wonderland, and the enemy you have to face is the Queen of Hearts. At some point, you hope to wake up and realize it was only a dream.

As a caregiver, you feel every emotion possible. At times, multiple emotions whirl simultaneously. You are bombarded by decisions and opinions from friends, family, and acquaintances. Complicating the matters is the fact that everyone’s opinions are different. The first step in caregiving is to trust yourself. Accept the realization that no answer is right or wrong. You make the best decision with the information you have today. Tomorrow you may change your mind, but you did not make a mistake. Your information changed. You are on a journey of uncharted territory. Others have traveled similar paths, but it was not your path. Others have made similar decisions, but they were not your decisions.

A miner deep in the caverns of the earth where the impenetrable darkness abides, uses a single light to breach the darkness. If the light fails, the darkness overpowers. A single rope brings a sigh of relief. This is known as the lifeline. It is the guide from the deep dark cavern to the surface light. The lifeline leads to a place of familiarity and clarity where the miner can depend on the natural eye to be the guide.

As a caregiver you need to keep your light maintained and operating as its’ peak. The light is you. You also, need a lifeline when the single light is not sufficient. What can you do to keep your single light shining? What builds your battery and gives you energy? Is it a hot cup of tea and reading a devotional? Is it talking to a friend on the phone? Is it a swim or a hike? Whatever it may be you must charge your batteries daily. Taking the time for self as a caregiver is a selfless act. It is allowing you to lead and guide those depending on you.

Is your lifeline in place? Have you walked the lifeline regularly to ensure it has not week or broken areas? How tragic for the single light to grow dim, to reach for the lifeline and it is lying on the ground disconnected from to outside world. It is so easy as a caregiver to isolate yourself. After all you do not have time for one more thing in your life. It is easy to believe that you are in this alone and no one understands. It is true others do not understand. You have to connect and share and be honest about what you need. Stay connected to your lifeline. Have a plan be for when plan A (the single light-you) grows weak.

Look at your current needs and ask, if I were removed from the picture, how would the care continue? The lifeline is multiple wires intertwined to make a strong rope. So are the people needed to help you. Build a lifeline of multiple resources assisting in a variety of ways. Accept and welcome even the smallest gestures of kindness.

As a caregiver, it was hard for me to admit that I needed help. After all, this is my responsibility. Soon I realized my help came in many sizes and packages. I found a young boy in my neighborhood. He was only eight-years old. His mother was an immaculate housekeeper, and he acquired her skill at a young age. With his mother’s permission, he would visit several times a week. For the price of a grilled cheese and an action figure- my house was spotless. The time it gave me was priceless. My church set a schedule for a day out a month. It only took twelve volunteers giving up one day a year each. They thought it was a small effort, but my day out was priceless. The neighbor that canned applesauce and set aside some for my dad, the pharmacist that brought a case of meal supplements every month, the friend that brought me lunch when I could no longer join at the restaurant. The professional care staff that gave me peace of mind watching my dad respond to them. These were all strands in my lifeline.

Rule number one in caregiving: You are the single light in need of a consistent lifeline. Rule number two in caregiving: Refer back to rule number one. Be open and honest, surrounding yourself with all the small gestures of kindness. Accept the professional services that help you. You will soon realize how much others are willing to do.

If you are interested in joining one of our support groups, reach out to egennari@commonwealthsl.com, and we will find the closest in your area.