Caregivers’ Corner: Reaching for Compassion

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson June 15, 2012 12:00

“I have the right to take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will enable me to take better care of my loved one.”

The man reading these first lines of the “Caregiver’s Bill of Rights” looked up in surprise.

“I’m having a really hard time with this,” he said, taking a shaky breath, “and it’s not about taking care of myself. I just don’t feel honest calling my wife my ‘loved one.’ I take care of her, but I’m not sure I love her or even like her right now.’”

The entire family caregiver support group went silent for a moment – startled – and then heads began to nod vigorously and murmurs of agreement rolled around the circle. Every caregiver there had experienced times when they really disliked the person they were caring for. Each had wrestled with the guilt.

In any healthy marriage, partnership, or relationship between family members, it’s normal to feel anger toward, disagree with, or flat-out dislike the other person at times. However, when dementia or another major illness is thrown into the mix, the balance in the relationship changes. We’re still husband and wife, sister and brother, daughter and dad, but we’re now also caregiver and care receiver.

Guilt, grief, and a cocktail of other emotions take over when anger or other negative feelings well up. The stress and fatigue of being responsible for that other person increases the strain. How do you deal with those feelings without irrationally taking them out on the other person? How do you manage the relationship without burning yourself out?

  • Acknowledge the emotion you’re experiencing. Emotions are just emotions, not right or wrong. Acknowledgement allows you to consider how or if you will act on the emotion.
  • Going back to those first lines in the “Caregiver’s Bill of Rights,” begin to find ways to take care of yourself. It might be going out for a quick walk or even a stomp when you’re feeling angry, stressed or overwhelmed. It might be writing in a private journal or calling a friend who can listen without judgment. It might be locking the bathroom door and taking a hot shower.
  • If you’re feeling that you don’t love the person that you’re taking care of, reach for compassion instead – for them and for you. That means asking for help so you can have a break. If finances are limited and family or friends are unable to assist, reach out to the Area 12 Agency on Aging, 532-6272. It often has resources for respite, and offers free caregiver education and support groups (my husband Peter and I facilitate these).
  • Many veterans are eligible for short stays at a Veterans Affairs center. Ask your VA physician. Oak Terrace Memory Care in Soulsbyville, 533-4822, provides care for those with dementia. Several local facilities and agencies offer short-stay options or in-home care for a fee.

Joan Jackson and Peter Carrillo are partners in Practical Dreamer (588-1835). Services include free caregiver suppport groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

© 2012 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson June 15, 2012 12:00