A caregiver is a unpaid or paid person who is a member of a person's social network who helps them with the activities of daily living. That is the definition. We all think in terms of someone you pay to take care of someone who is sick or older or disabled. Other words for caregiver are: mom, dad, daughter, son, relative and friend. For me, a caregiver is a person who helps those who need it out of love. Period. I am not downing or criticizing people who have it as a profession, because unfortunately, there are those who don't naturally have someone in their lives who can help them. But, that is not what this blog is about. It's about ME and MY opinions, right? So let's get started:
Kids - My start as a caregiver started at a very early age. I was a very young mother when I had my first and little did I know the ride I was in for! That was 36+ years ago now and well more than half my life ago so I have learned a lot. Raising four kids, I thought, would END at some point and be done, but, no matter how ADULT they are, the care-giving doesn't ever really stop. I still feel the need to help them with "the activities of daily living" at times! I mean, they can all totally fend for themselves now (and they do a better job that I feel I did for them for the most part) but I always have an opinion or idea I think they need and worrying about their welfare and lives with their families crosses my mind every day, even though they don't always know it does. Raising kids is the hardest, never ending job you will ever do in your life. No, I haven't done every job in the world, but, most jobs have an end date. OR at least a time when you CHOOSE to end it. Being a parent doesn't end...I have heard that it doesn't end when you lose a child either, which I hope I never ever have in my lifetime. The love you have for them is what fuels everything. Sometimes it was the ONLY fuel because of exhaustion, anger, frustration, lack of knowledge or tools....well, if there wasn't that love I would have given up a thousand times over. When you care...you can't.
Parents - Then came the day when my mother was going to need my help. That is a startling time in your life, because, if you have caring parents, they were always there for you and then one day--they need you. Caring for her didn't start out as a full time job. Parenting does because an infant is so dependent for everything, but, being a caregiver for your parent it's kind of the opposite. It starts out with a little help here or there, but then gradually (in my case) turns into more care and help. For me, the rolls reversed between my mother and I and I had to be the one who helped her fears and aided with things she could no longer do on her own. My mother wasn't a child (and I never saw her in that way) however, in my case taking care of her came naturally because I had cared for my kids. Some of the tasks were the same, and I never ever thought when I had to bathe my children that is was "gross" or bad. I loved them. They needed to be cleaned and they couldn't do it. How could I not feel the same about my mom? Also, like when I was raising small children, I didn't have a whole lot of time to feel sorry for myself. THERE WERE MOMENTS...but, then it was time to deal with another issue and so I got to moving. It was the same with my mom. Alzheimer's and dementia is terrible to witness in someone you love. HOWEVER, I kept my perspective that it was how it was, she couldn't help it any more than one of my kids could help whatever phase they were in and I didn't let sadness or expectations get me down--for the most part. I never dwelt on how she "wasn't the same person" as she progressed. I mean, my kids never stayed the same! As they grew up they did things differently, spoke differently, needed me differently and in a lot of things were totally different than when we started. Do I love them less or wish they were babies? No. Did/Do I sometimes miss baby cuddle moments or the love you would see in their beautiful little faces? Yes. AND that is how it was with with my mother. I missed our carefree shopping sprees and lunch dates, but I loved her through each phase and did my best to give her what she needed, in the way she needed it, until the end of her life.
Pets - Pets need a different type of care-giving and different pets need different things. Some more than others. I am an animal lover--always have been! But I was raised by an Iowan farm girl and animals were necessary at times for life, as well as pets for fun. But, they were not humans. I am not saying their lives don't matter nor are they inferior as living beings, however, they understand the laws of nature, and we must too when it comes to the animals that we love in our lives. We think that they need things the way humans do, and that is not the case in a lot of areas. I mean, they DO need food, shelter and love...but they don't NEED a daily shower, a five course gourmet meal or the TV remote. Being a true pet caregiver is learning about them and what they need and providing it for them. Not about what you need them to be in your life. I wasn't raised with pets, but in my adult life I have had many pets. I am a dog lover. It has taken me a while to learn how to care for them in the best way and I still get it wrong at times. But, not for lack of trying. Especially later in my adult life, my dogs are my babies at home. I am not a pet parent that takes my dogs for walks in strollers (although some are so cute out there!) but I talk to them...and talk FOR them. They have slept on my bed and had their own place. They have enriched my life in so many ways. Recently I had to say goodbye to my four legged best friend. We had her for 13+years and it has broken my heart to not have her around every day. You see, dogs all have their own personalities--like people do--and she was my dog. She was supposed to be my husband's, but she was mine. She got me. Or that is how it felt. Caring for her through illness was hard...we had never talked about "what to do when..." like I did with my mom. I didn't know what she wanted. I had to go with what I thought may be best for her...even though for me it was the worst. Care-giving can break your heart.
Home & Community - Our homes need our attention every day in one way or another. We need to care for them not because we have to, but because we are thankful we have a place to lay our heads. A place where we are safe--and the others we care for are safe. We need to be the same in our communities. Keeping your community alive and healthy is not only good for the community, but good for your home and family as well. It's spreading love to your neighbors and friends. It's helping each other out in a crisis, or being there when they lose someone they are caring for. Care-giving is a way of life--a way we should all live on this earth. Helping each other out. Everyone and everything needs a little help along the way now and then...don't you think? If you just care, the rest will come...in one way or another.