In 1994, my husband Paul and I – armed with dreams of starting a senior-care business – opened our first office in my mother-in-law Catherine’s living room.
Not long before, Catherine had invited her 89-year-old mother – Grandma Manhart – to live with her for what seemed would be the last year of her life. It worked out well because Paul could keep a close eye on Grandma during the day while Catherine worked.
It proved to be a dramatic training ground for our business model and provided insights into the role that millions of families fill each day as caregivers of aging loved ones.
Working daily in that home afforded us the opportunity to learn first-hand what compassionate caregiving could mean to the lives of seniors like Grandma who wanted to remain at home, but needed a little extra help. In fact, Grandma Manhart lived to 100 – another 11 years – under the watchful and loving care of family members.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of hearing many caregivers’ personal stories through my work with Home Instead Senior Care, the business that we launched to help provide seniors at-home care and companionship. Their stories tell of great joy and extreme sorrow, grief and thanksgiving, feelings of guilt and resentment but also fulfillment.
It was these stories that led me to write Strength for The Moment: Inspiration and Advice for Family Caregivers (Image Books, March 27, 2012). It combines 52 uplifting stories and personal experiences of caregivers with inspirational prayers and practical advice.
Caregiving touches nearly everyone’s life. More than 65 million people in the United States are providing care for loved ones. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter said it best: “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
Drawn from stories in the book and my own experiences, here are five tips that can help family caregivers find joy in the midst of stress, fatigue and, in some cases, heartache.
Look for humor: Sometimes humor is all you have, especially when dealing with a disease such as Alzheimer’s. One family caregiver recalls his dad eyeing his favorite candy bar at the store. “When asked if he’d like one, Dad declined, but then could be seen slipping the treat into his pocket,” the son said. “I felt like a parent who could barely contain laughter as their child misbehaves in the most hilarious way.” When all else fails, laugh!
Provide comfort: Comfort can bring great relief not only to seniors but other family members, as this professional caregiver of a dying senior explains: “Unfortunately, her family lived elsewhere and could not get there in time. I was able to provide them details of her last hours, and how I sang to her to relieve some of her anxiety. They were comforted to know that I had been next to their Mum’s side until the end.”
Ask for help: Caregiving can be very demanding on an individual’s time and energy. Resentment and frustration often result because siblings have not offered to help, and the brunt of the care rests on the shoulders of one. Don’t suffer in silence. Ask for assistance. If asking other family members is not an option, take advantage of national and local resources, such as those listed on the Home Instead or Strength for the Moment sites.
Be patient: I once asked Paul’s grandmother what she thought was one of the most valuable pieces of advice she could give me for my family. “Patience” is all she said. That advice still helps me through every situation. The way things are in any given moment is not how they will be forever. Sometimes simply taking a deep breath and reminding ourselves of that can give us the strength and perspective we need to make it through the day.
Look to God: A new Marist Poll survey conducted for Home Instead found that seniors who practice their faith report a higher quality of life. When facing difficult situations, we can rely on faith to remind us that we are not alone and that God is in control. This is especially true for caregivers who sometimes need divine strength and inspiration to help them through the stressful moments they experience while providing care for aging or special needs loved ones. Relevant scriptures can often breathe fresh life, hope and encouragement when we need it the most.
It is my hope that Strength for the Moment encourages the caregiver in each of us to gain strength through shared experiences, find humor in joy in each day, realize the value of this work, and reach out to God in times of sorrow and of joy.
To read an excerpt of Strength for the Moment, click here.
Join the conversation: Do you have a caregiving story? Share it below.