Tuesday, April 3, is National Family Caregiver Day. In honour of family caregivers, we are giving them the floor. We asked three Canadian caregivers what lessons they have learned or what has changed in their lives from their experience as caregivers.
Anna, Moncton, New Brunswick: “Sleep is a non-negotiable.”
I am a classic “sandwich generation” caregiver – I care for my two children, and I help take care of my dad. I find being a parent has helped me be a better caregiver and vice versa. One of the things I learned very early on in motherhood is I cannot do it all, and I have to ask for help. I also learned if I do not get a good night’s sleep, I will be unpleasant to my husband, my children and really anyone who gets in my way!
Everyone says it, but it’s so true: like on the airplane, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else with theirs. So, putting on my oxygen mask as a caregiver means making sure I prioritize sleep. I avoid screens for an hour before bed. I go to bed at 10 p.m. every night, and my phone gets charged in the kitchen, far away from my itchy Facebook fingers. I keep a notebook on my nightstand in case anything comes to mind I do not want to forget. I also keep a book that is pure pleasure on my nightstand. I read that for a half an hour before my head hits the pillow.
McKay, Nanaimo, British Columbia: “Long-distance caregiving actually strengthened my relationship with my sister.”
I’ve had a strained relationship with my sister Carol for as long as I can remember. We are just so different. I am a vegetarian. She and her husband hunt. I work in a creative industry. She works for a bank. I love to travel. She is a homebody. It sounds like the setup for a hilarious sitcom, but there has been very little hilarity for the past 20 years. Then, my mother got sick. I live far away and she lives close to my mother, and initially this created more tension.
I would call and ask her questions after every doctor’s appointment. I would second guess what she was doing. I would try to micromanage from afar. Finally, I was able to fly down and spend a week with Carol and my mother. When I saw what Carol was managing, and the system she had put in place, I had to change my tune. I quickly switched from, “Why are you doing it that way?” to “Thank you so much for all you do, and how can I help today?” When my tone changed, Carol let me see the strain she was under and allowed me to help. Carol keeps me updated with Google Docs and Google Calendar, and I fly down when I can. I help pay for the cleaning person and ComForCare Home Care respite care when Carol needs a break. My sister and I may never agree on everything, but we both love our mom, and Carol’s doing an amazing job managing her care. I’m happy to be part of the team.
Lisa, Mississauga, Ontario: “Finding people who understood my caregiving journey helped me enormously.”
I learned the importance of finding people who understood my experience. I care for my husband, who has Alzheimer’s. We have no children, so I do not share the responsibility of caring for him with anyone other than medical professionals and personal support workers. We have a great network of friends and, initially, I tried to share with them my feelings about this new experience. I got a lot of blank stares and uncomfortable silences. Everyone meant well, but some friends would try to solve my problems when I just wanted them to listen. And, some friends would probably have offered to come visit, but they were afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing.
I look back and think how silly I was to have resisted joining a support group for so long. For some reason, I did not want to think of myself as one of those types of people. Finally, I got over myself and found a group through the Canadian Alzheimer’s Society. Just hearing other people talk about their experiences, and being able to share my own, has helped in ways I can’t express. My support group made me feel less alone. I am still surprised at how much we laugh in the group. It is the laughter of recognition. It’s the laughter you have to laugh or else you’ll cry. It has helped me heal and given me strength. If you are caregiving and have not found your tribe yet, or if you do not have someone with whom you can talk openly about your experience, put that on your “to-do” list immediately. I know that list is full, but finding a community will make your life better.
In honour of caregivers, we have created these free caregiving resources. We have information for every step in the caregiving journey, from What is Home Care? to The Family Guide to Dementia. Consider it our gift to you all year round. To all caregivers, we at ComForCare Home Care wish you a happy National Family Caregiver Day!