A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or addiction cannot cope without their support. The term is used in the United Kingdom and I prefer it to the word caregiver to define the growing numbers of people who are finding themselves taking on this role. Over eight million Canadians, 28 per cent of our population are providing this type of support, a great majority of which is for aging parents. As the over 65 population in Canada will double by the year 2030, more and more responsibility will be falling to families to care for a spouse, a parent or other friend or relative.
Becoming a carer can affect your life in so many ways. You are often thrust into this role unexpectedly. Life throws a curve ball and you must pick up the bat and start swinging before you really know what hit you. It can leave you emotionally exhausted because of the strain of seeing someone you care about experiencing pain, distress or discomfort. You can find yourself at a loss of how to carry on, as your own life becomes entwined with the many demands that are presented to you on a day by day basis.
As this role is taken on by more and more of us, we must band together in a more supportive way. We can’t hide from the facts of what is happening, we must begin to share the burdens and the rewards so that we can learn from each other. Feeling alone and isolated is often a big part of the carer’s journey. Sharing our stories out in the open as we gain valuable insights, can only have positive, meaningful results for our own well-being and for those perhaps just beginning their own journey of caring for a loved one.
Once you have travelled the worn path of the carer, you can look back and reflect on all the obstacles you have crossed and see more clearly the moments of rewarding love your heart has been overwhelmed with. Sometimes when in the middle of the storm, this is not so easy to see and you need to reach out to others who have lived to tell the tale. They will let you know that all of the emotions you feel and the challenges that you may find daunting in so many ways, are normal. The words spoken from one who has travelled through the trenches themselves, can be the most uplifting and reassuring talisman to help you find the resilience to keep on keeping on.
My sister shared her own very personal story with me on my Engaging in Aging Radio Show on AM1150 on Aug. 20. Caring for her husband of 43 years following his massive stroke seven years ago through the threat of losing him, the years of rehabilitation that followed and the ultimate need to inevitably reclaim her own life, can only be described as inspirational. Please go to the Engaging in Aging Radio Show Facebook page to have a listen, especially if you find your own resilience being hijacked by the many emotions that can make it hard to stay positive and remember that you are not alone.
Resilience is not just a feeling, it is about conscious choice. A choice we each have the power to make. Deri Latimer, a keynote speaker and author, describes what she sees as the five habits of psychological resilience: 1) Decide what you want 2) Be mindful 3) Choose positive 4) Integrate the experience and 5) Take action. My sister Nancy, spoke eloquently on how she brought each of these habits into reality over seven years to find a place of balance and self-nurturing in her own life with what can only be described as a major life changing event.
Janet Dunnett and her twin sister also learned about resilience through the caring of their mother until her death. Once the reflection time began for Janet, she decided to write a book entitled The Dwindling: A Daughter’s Caregiving Journey To The Edge of Life to share her story. As with my own intense experience of caring for my Mom, Janet was inspired to take action and spread the word to others. She has welcomed true resilience into her life, the knowledge that whatever happens, you can get through it. She will be sharing her story on Engaging in Aging this coming Sunday, Aug. 27 at 9 a.m. and will also be reaching out to the Kelowna community with an informal drop in event at Mosaic Books on Tuesday, Aug. 29 between 3 and 5 p.m. She is eager to talk to people and learn about their carer experiences. She will also be at the Vernon Library on Aug. 30 doing a presentation called Caregiving: A Shared Experience from 7 to 9 p.m.
Resilience is a building process. It fortifies you to search for the meaning underlying any difficulty. We can find strength in each other, but it takes joining together. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.” The flowers may take their time to bloom when you are living in the role of carer, but bloom they will.
Marjorie Horne is the founder of CareSmart Seniors Consulting and host of AM1150’s Engaging in Aging Radio Show. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-863-9577