Family Caregiving

In family caregiving, we caregivers have daily jobs that can try even the most patient among us, and the miracles never come often enough. But they do come. There are moments in family caregiving, just as in parenting, sailing and soldiering, that transcend the tiresome monotony and allow the caregiver the deepest euphoric joy and highest spiritual peace available to human beings.

For me, being my husband Andy’s caregiver was first and foremost about learning to be on call. Disease doesn’t keep to a schedule and care giving necessarily follows the lead and needs of illness. It helped me to have been a mother and to have succeeded in meeting the needs of my babies, night and day. It helped to have sailed across the Gulf of Mexico in a small sailboat and to have been on call—day and night, as storms came up, winds changed, and crew got too seasick to do their night watches.

Those experiences helped but a caregiver still must reacquaint themselves with the delicate balance of putting oneself second in moments of need but not on a permanent basis. My babies became young children and capable of a more settled life and our boat eventually came into port and what we did at sea in order to survive became memories.

As a family caregiver, the ending is not usually happy or clear cut. Certainly, your loved one will someday be gone, as will we all, but family care giving does not have that as a goal and in fact the goal is the exact opposite. As family caregivers, we try to extend the quality and quantity of life for those we love.

Love is the essence of what is given and also received.

That is what people outside of the caregiving experience don’t fully comprehend. Being a caregiver is a crash course in expanding one’s capacity for love.

On our sailboat trip we experienced physical rushes and euphoric feelings as we tottered on the edge of danger, and a war veteran on our crew commented, “This is a little like landing my helicopter in ‘Nam’ for a rescue mission, in that the danger and uncertainty make me feel like I am more alive.”

In family caregiving, I found out that once I got through the mundane, everyday, sometimes boring chores, I was sitting on a goldmine mixture of love, uncertainty, and danger that was capable of triggering the most amazing life.

Being a parent is also like that. One has to get through all those diaper changes, late night feedings, crying binges, and exhaustion in order to have your baby look into your eyes and giggle. There, in that moment, is more than you ever experienced before.

My veteran friend had to train exhaustively, doing the same flight maneuvers over and over and over again. He had to check every inch of his helicopter every day, in a routine that never changed, in order for him to be in the position to pick up wounded soldiers out of the jungle war zone and lift them to safety.

In family caregiving, we caregivers have daily jobs that can try even the most patient among us, and the miracles never come often enough. But they do come. There are moments in family caregiving, just as in parenting, sailing and soldiering, that transcend the tiresome monotony and allow the caregiver the deepest euphoric joy and highest spiritual peace available to human beings.

Caregivers out there, will you share some of your best moments?

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