The acknowledgement that serious illness and disease is a part of life, and that people are living with Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other chronic conditions has given me a new perspective. I now realize that the family members and friends helping those with frailty and illness are living with/while caregiving.
Over the years, we have heard so many caregivers express that they have put their own lives on hold when they began their caregiving journey. The problem is that we can’t really put our lives on hold. The clock keeps ticking. We may not be caregivers forever, but we won’t get those days back.
With the myriad of demands placed upon us while caregiving, how do we best keep on living as fully as possible?
First, we have to admit that we never really were in control. We probably all have a plan, or at least a wish list, for our lives. We may get an education, take a job, go on a trip, get married – all as a part of that plan. As Yogi Berra used to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” But how many curve balls were thrown at our lives’ plans? So many, we’ve probably forgotten half of them.
Recognizing we’re not in total control gives us the freedom to roll with the punches we didn’t see coming. We might have to give up some things, but we can use caregiving to distill our vision down to what is the most important to hang on to in our lives.
Let’s continue to give energy to what is most meaningful. It might be that caregiving role – giving back to our mother or father, or to our husband or wife. But it might also be our friends, art or dancing, a favorite sport, gardening, or even work. We need to keep these in our lives even while caregiving. If we allow the person living with the illness to experience life as fully as possible, then we still need to continue to live our lives as fully as possible while caregiving as well.
Because most of the care in the United States comes from family members and friends versus formal, paid assistance, there are societal supports that family caregivers need to be able to continue to work, to have leisure, to get an education, and to have choices in our lives. There is advocacy work to be done, and our voices must be heard in political circles. But we can’t wait for the perfect system either.
Being willing to give up some control and give up part of the plan allows space in our lives to become that person who takes on the mantle of caregiving. But creating space doesn’t mean totally displacing what we have in our lives that makes us happy or gives us satisfaction. Yogi Berra also said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Perhaps our future will be different, but it will be our future and let’s live as fully as possible until we get there.
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and emeritus Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at www.CaregiverSOS.org or toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.