CAREGIVER: Reflections on the challenges and rewards of being a caregiver for a loved one

It’s been over four years since I moved in to my Mom’s home to become her primary caregiver, when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. These are some reflections along the way, on this journey of caregiving.

Compassion

In order to be a caregiver, one needs to have a sense of compassion. Kindness and consideration are key factors that help a caregiver be successful in fulfilling that role. Caregiving is a challenging job that can change daily or weekly, as situations and circumstances change. A sense of understanding, concern, and true empathy are helpful traits in providing for the needs of another.

Always

When taking on the role of caregiver, its important to realize that the responsibilty is constant and permanent. It is an “always” job, meaning it can be all-consuming. Even if you have the luxury of downtime, a chance to get away, your mind will be continually occupied with things to be done, ways to improve, how best to provide the care you are rendering.

Repetitive

The work of a caregiver can be repetitious. It can also be tiresome, tedious, and oft-times downright monotonous. But the repetitive nature is from the caregiver’s perspective. For the one receiving care, the repetition can be extremely beneficial. A routine is something they can follow. Doing things the same way helps the individual with rote memory and muscle recall.

Emotional

It takes a sensitive person to be a caregiver. One who is open to the needs of another, someone who is expressive and can show emotion. While it’s important to be demonstrative with the one for whom you are caring, it also can take an emotional toll. Caregiving can be a roller-coaster ride, managing the ups and downs, and the highs and lows that ebb and flow. One emotional aspect of caregiving is that of gratitude, finding joy in the small things, and satisfaction in knowing I’m making a difference for someone else.

Giving

It takes a giving person to be a caregiver. While rendering care, one must keep a charitable mindset. This requires a generous heart; giving without expecting anything in return. Being gracious and having the trait of compassion will serve the caregiver well in their role, fullfilling this important responsibility.

Improvise

Along the way in caregiving, challenges arise. Flexibility is important. The ability to improvise can make the difference in having a good day. Creating new ways when old ways no longer work, being able to adlib and adjust to the changes that debilitation can bring, are all important abilities of a caregiver. Some days I even impress myself in finding ways to extemporize and approach things from a different angle. Often, it doesn’t require a “MacGyver” method of invention, but just the ability to react, respond, and realign that can turn a challenge into a success!

Victorious

There are many successful days on this journey of caregiving, days that leave me fealing triumphant and glorious! Like I’m winning the Caregiver Champion award! Other days are not quite as victorious, but with perseverance, tenacity, dedication, persistence, and what my Dad (rest in peace) would call “stick-to-it-iveness,” I remind myself that tomorrow will be one of the victorious days!

Erratic

It is the unpredictable nature of caregiving that perhaps is one of the most challenging aspects for me. The scheduled help is often very inconsistent, leaving me to reschedule my own appointments and causing much irregularity in my work flow. The random interruptions, the unpredictable changes to the schedule, and the instability of my calendar is something I heretofor had not faced, and it’s extremely unsettling. But I keep telling myself how blessed I am to be able to allow Mom to fulfill her wish and desire of “aging in place” in the home she and my father built on the banks of Breton Bay in beautiful southern Maryland. Her lovely slice of heaven-on-earth is where we can enjoy spectacular sunsets, have fantastic neighbors and friends, and are extremely grateful, especially during these pandemic times, where we can be together and control her situation and circumstances, no matter how erratic things become.

Rewarding

While there are many challenges to being a caregiver, it is also a very rewarding endeavor. As mentioned previously, Mom’s home is situated in a magnificently lovely setting on peaceful water, with a backyard filled with bird feeders, that delight her immensely. Most days have very worthwhile and redeeming aspects to them, which is very fulfilling as a caregiver. What brings me the most satisfaction is seeing the outpouring of love and respect for my mother from the many heartwarming connections she has made through the years. It is extremely gratifying to witness first-hand the impact my Mom has had on the lives of so many people, not just her eight children, their spouses, grandchildren, and now handful of great grandchildren as well, but also on the kids from the neighborhood in Silver Spring where she raised us, from the many nieces and nephews from the large families on both my Dad’s and Mom’s sides, and the many former neighbors, church friends, and others with whom she has made connections through the years. That is the most fulfilling and rewarding of all is being witness to the outpouring of love and gratitude for the impact she has made on the many lives she has touched. That aspect of my caregiving role is the most gratifying, meaningful, and rewarding of all.

“Mom” — Ann Duchesne (Right) and daughter Peg — a/k/a Caregiver (Left), Spring 2018

A magnificent May sunset as seen from my Mom’s “backyard” along the banks of Breton Bay in SoMd.

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