This is the first of a series of articles about long-term caregiving. I will share what I have learned from personal and professional experience, and from participants in our weekly Caregivers Support Group, which began on August 7, 2014. (Four participants who began on that date continue to be in the Group. A fact that emphasizes how long caregiving can be.)
We can not avoid being in human relationships. We are born into a social network, a family, and we are totally helpless from birth. Someone must take care of us. They are our caregivers for many years.
As we grow and make new relationships outside the home, we ourselves participate in caregiving. We do things for friends. We listen to them. We show interest. We offer to help. We are doing a kind of general caregiving.
As life continues, sudden crises can erupt and require caregiving of a new and specific kind. It may be in reaction to an accident that harms our relative, partner, or friend. Or, it may be a sudden serious illness that comes upon our friend or relative.
The crisis may be temporary. The injured person recovers. The ill person regains health. And we have been involved in this process.
Some crises are not temporary. Instead, they can lead to long-term changes for our loved one. For example, an accident or sports injury can cause permanent and restrictive damage. Other examples such as a sudden stroke. Or, a discovered cancer. Or, heart damage. Or, worsening diabetes. Or, a medical condition becomes chronic. These crises change our relationship to our loved one. And they change the way we usually live.
Also, there are the crises of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Mental changes that gradually erase the person we knew, and create a stranger in that same body. Mental conditions which worsen for many years. And we are unable to stop what is happening. Unable to hold on to the loved one who is fading away.
Life is what it is. Changes come constantly. And some are good and welcomed. And other changes are not expected and not welcomed. Changes that bring crises that we can not avoid. Changes that require from us a specific kind of caregiving for which we are not prepared.
If you need, or someone you know needs a place to talk openly and personally about the challenges of long term caregiving, then join a support group. It can be very helpful and supportive.
Future articles about long-term caregiving will discuss “uncertainty”, “demands”, “getting help”, “finances”,”self care” and other relevant topics.
About the Author
Hugh Burns is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an ordained clergyman in the PCUSA. Hugh graduated from Presbyterian College and Columbia Theological Seminary. He leads DPC’s Caregivers Support Group and has previously served as a Clinical Chaplain in a mental health center and a hospital. You can reach Hugh by email, at email@example.com.