8 Things Caregivers Who Care for the Terminally Ill Should Remember
My father has end stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a terminal disease that severely limits breathing, contributes to mild cognitive impairment, and poor mood. A few days ago he was admitted to the hospital, as the winter months almost always cause more breathing issues for him. After speaking with my mother over the phone about a complication at the hospital and the growing medical bills, I reassured her to have faith that things were going to be OK. Yet, it is easy to succumb to the overwhelming stress when caring for someone with a terminal illness. So, I thought, how does she manage and what is her secret that I can share with others as they create resolutions for themselves?
As the new year moves onward and us along with it, many with terminal diseases – the caretakers, and their loved ones – are frozen with fear, bitterness, and overwhelming frustration as we must acknowledge the most terrifying thing a person can face – the narrow bridge of mortality. Yet, we can make resolutions that give us strength, patience, and courage.
1. Build and maintain friendships and a strong support system.
It’s important to remember that the most powerful resource anyone can have is community. Look for support groups, connect with medical professionals, and if you are religious, lean on sacred community when times are tough. While you take care of your loved one, let them take care of you.
2. Love is an action.
Do good things to show you care and look to the examples of others, like family, to teach you how to put your love into action.
3. Forgive with gusto!
It is OK to be angry when you are frustrated with someone you are caring for, and it is OK to vent to
your support system when you face financial stress and difficulties navigating the system. Yet, don’t hold onto grudges that create bitterness. Let go of painful memories, and instead remember the love that has always been there.
4. We are all human, so give yourself credit.
My spiritual advisor once reminded me of this vital truth. It’s OK to allow yourself to feel, you are doing the best you can! If you have to cry, then cry. No one is given all the answers, and we all fall short learning to cope on life’s twists and turns, so cut yourself some slack.
5. Always make their memory a blessing.
Enjoy the good memories. I was told a story by my one friend who worked at a nursing home. Everyday she saw an older woman dressed to the 90s come into see her husband with dementia. She asked the woman, “Why do you do that if he will only forget you, and he does not even know who he is?”
The woman brought her into the room and said, “I want you to see something.”
In the room were pictures they had of when they traveled the world and of the dreams they shared together. She was also well dressed in these as well. Amazingly, the man smiled and said with pride, “That’s my wife!”
The rest of the visit was as if time went backward a little for the old couple. She kept his memory of her alive and let it be part of his legacy to her, in spite of the painful reality of her husband’s condition.
6. Give thanks.
7. Manage your stress.
Find positive outlets live meditation or yoga to unwind.
8. Be realistic.
It takes courage to accept change. Know your limits and be honest with what care options you need.
I hope readers can find new strength from these tips, and incorporate them into your New Year’s resolutions.
This is dedicated to my mother, a woman of valor and an everyday hero. She is like many caretakers who struggle in silence. They remind us that being mighty is not only about strength but, “who you love and how deeply you love them.”
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