Caregiving is hard work. With it comes a lot of emotions. Some of these emotions are positive—love, connection, gratitude. Others may be negative—guilt, resentment, fear.
Being unable to be a caregiver when a loved one is ill also brings with it a lot of conflicting emotions. You may feel guilty and regret not being able to be there for your parent when they need you as a result of distance and/or responsibility to your job and children. On the other hand, you may also feel relieved that you aren’t carrying that burden.
For those who are prevented from caregiving by physical limitations, there may be anger at their own situation.
At Hospice of the Panhandle, most of us have walked in those shoes. We’re not surprised or shocked by what you’re feeling. We don’t judge you for it.
Over the years, I’ve participated in caregiving for some of my loved ones. I’ve written previously about helping to care for my grandfather and how I cherish the time and connection I had with him because of it. On the other hand, I regret not being more involved in caring for my grandmother, my Nanny. I don’t think I understood at the time how serious her condition was and how much shorter her time with us was growing. Part of that was because my grandfather was not one to ask for help, especially from the grandchildren. The other part is that I didn’t make the time to be more involved.
I also helped care for my mom when she was fighting cancer (which she beat thankfully). I was happy that I could be there for her during “chemo weekends” when the chemotherapy left her completely drained and exhausted. We got to spend time together that we otherwise wouldn’t have. However, there was a part of me that was resentful that my sister was 1,100 miles away and couldn’t share the load. Meanwhile, my sister felt guilty that she couldn’t help more.
All of these feelings are a natural and normal part of being a caregiver. They are also a reason to reach out for help when a loved one is ill. Getting help caring for your loved one embraces and increases the positive emotions and reduces the negative ones.
There are many examples of how hospice care helps families do this in the last stage of their loved ones’ lives.
For example, having a nurse come to your home and teach you how to care for your loved one can improve your confidence in caregiving and minimize frustration and anxiety.
Letting a hospice aide bathe your loved one throughout the week and assist with light housekeeping reduces your workload, giving you back time and energy.
Social workers can help family member communicate with one another about their needs so that other family members can fully grasp the situation and pitch in. They can even make suggestions that involve family members who are out of town so that everyone can be involved. For example, a long-distance loved one can arrange for meals to be delivered by family friends.
Social workers, hospice chaplains and grief counselors are trained to help you cope with the emotions related to serious illness and impending loss. They can help you express and, when possible, resolve them in healthy ways that will reduce the emotion’s intensity.
Hospice of the Panhandle often communicates regularly with long-distance caregivers, updating them on their loved one’s health and making suggestions on how to best support their loved one and local members of the family. This helps reduce the anxiety of not being able to be physically present and allows long-distance caregivers to take an active role in their loved ones’ care.
And when all of it becomes overwhelming, respite care may be available at the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility. Several years ago I was giving a patient’s wife and her sister a tour of the inpatient facility. The sister was telling me about how the patient’s wife had been caring for her husband for years. She was exhausted, rarely sleeping through the night because of his needs. The sister had decided that they should go to the beach for a week to rest, recharge and relax. The patient’s wife was uncertain that she could leave her husband for that long. As she toured the inpatient facility though, the patient’s wife became more comfortable with the idea of going to the beach. She saw how attentive the staff were and the nurse assured her that they would call her every day to let her know how her husband was and would call her immediately if anything happened. Finally, she agreed to let him stay at the inpatient facility so that she could take a much needed break. She had a great time at the beach and returned rested and ready to continue caring for her beloved husband.
These are all only a few examples of how Hospice of the Panhandle can help families enjoy their role as caregiver more and reduce the negative feelings that may also go along with it.
For more information about how Hospice of the Panhandle can help you care for your loved one, call (304) 264-0406 or go online to www.hospiceotp.org.
Ashley Horst is the marketing and fundraising coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle. She has been with the organization for 11 years and helps educate the community on how people can live more fully at the end of life with the help of Hospice of the Panhandle.