This one is long, but I wrote it for CNN…..not sure anyone agrees, but it is just my two cents plain.
Anyone who is, or has been, a caregiver knows the following: “Caregiving ain’t for wimps!”
It takes everything a caregiver has and on some days it demands more than we have. But just like the Energizer Bunny, caregivers do their best to keep on going, and going, and going, and…..
In my fourteen years as a primary caregiver I have learned to try and be levelheaded in my daily efforts. However, no matter how well-meaning they might be, when someone utters one of the following phrases to me the words drill into my ears and cause me craziness. It then takes me more than a few moments to defuse my reaction and lower my blood pressure.
So in the interest of keeping a modicum of peace in the world of caregivers, I offer these statements, which in my humble estimation should never leave anyone’s lips within earshot of a caregiver.
1) “You are a saint.” The hell we are! We know better than anyone we are not. We have our moments when our patience is drawn too thin, when we overreact, we hurt more than usual, are sleep deprived, or simply cannot manage all the demands that are coming at us at the same time.
2) “You need to take care of yourself.” Guess what? Every primary caregiver knows this, especially since after ‘you are a saint’ it is the phrase we hear more often than any other. The catch is that when you are taking care of someone else fulltime how is it that magically we can put all that on hold and go take care of ourselves? You want caregivers to take care of themselves, then prepare to offer more than just these words.
3) “You need to take some time for yourself.” This one is particularly rich. Time for yourself when you barely have time to go to the bathroom, take a shower, get the clothes washed, the bed changed, the meals prepared, the dishes washed, the bills paid? Think about it…chief cook, bottle washer, and caregiver.
4) “I wish there was something I could do to help.” Caregiving is extremely isolating. Sure, a caregiver is with their patient 24/7, but that is far different than any semblance of normal social interactions. No matter where you are, no matter how far away you are, there ARE things you can do. They don’t need to be big either. Small works just fine. You can reach out with a letter, an email, a call, or a card. You can send a flower, a photo, a joke, a book you like, a clipping from the newspaper, have a pizza delivered. Even the tiniest of tokens says ‘I am thinking of you and I want to help ease your burden’.
5) “How do you do it?” I’ll let you in on a caregiving secret here. There is NO magic pill, potion, or system for how any caregiver manages. How we do it is the same way a juggler keeps 10 balls in the air. We do it the same way a house of cards is built, and we, more than anyone, understand that caregiving is exactly that…a house of cards. One small change and the whole system can crash. Half the time it seems like we are doing it with smoke and mirrors, but at least it gets done.
6) “You should get some help.” Great. Thanks. Think that has never crossed a caregiver’s mind? Let me look back and try and remember whether the last time I thought of this one was before or after the now ex-relief caregiver never bothered to show up for her shift; or before or after the one I had to fire who then burglarized and vandalized our home? Perhaps it was before or after the one who emotionally abused my wife. By the way, are you offering help or just providing me with a platitude? Oh, and speaking of platitudes…
7) “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Don’t ever, and I mean NOT EVER, speak this misquotation of supposed Scripture to a caregiver. First, you could go look it up, but surprise! It’s not anywhere in the Bible. The closest you will come is most likely Corinthians 10:6–13 and that doesn’t say what you may think it does either. So please, please, please! Do every caregiver in the world a huge favor and banish this erroneous statement that, as far as I can tell, only serves to make the one who utters it feel better.
8) “You’ll get your crown in heaven.” See #1 and caregivers are not in this for any stinkin’ crown now or after we are dead, thank you!
9) “How are you doing?” This one is OK, but please only say it in private. I cannot tell you how often I was asked this question in front of the person I was caring for. What is a caregiver supposed to say in response? Right in front of the person you are caring for are you expecting something like ‘gee, I am burning out, exhausted, at my wit’s end, in pain myself, depressed, etc.?
10) “You need to find some time to relax.” See all of the above and then don’t say it again, please.