Saturday, 6 February 2016
For one glorious summer in the '70's, an old tamarisk tree with wide sweeping branches down to the sand of a Greek beach was my home. Its branches opened like welcoming arms to form my front door. When friends came to call, they knew I was home if they saw my sandals carefully set to one side. Inside there was a special crook in one branch that held my cup and toothbrush and plenty of twigs to drape my scarves on. My tree gentled the sun's rays by day and let the stars peek through at night. I felt safe and sheltered by this kind tree. My tree space felt lived in, by me, by others before me and of course by various wildlife who shared it with me. It was definitely the place that felt the most like home during that sun-kissed summer.
One of our treasured family stories is the account of my mother, who upon reading a letter containing my starry eyed account of my life in Greece, burst into tears and wailed, "She's living in a tree! A tree!" For her, my breezy home was not and never would be a home.
That's the thing about a home. It is a very personal feeling. Not so much a place as a space. It is a space that breathes and nourishes us. A space becomes a home when it opens to us as we are, and when we in turn, get worn into it. Creating this kind of home space when a person is vulnerable or isolated is complex. As families, we are often caught in the paradoxical challenge of finding spaces that both open doors and secure locks. This is why cultivating and consulting caring connections beyond us is so important for our loved ones. Standing together, we can peek out, open the curtains of our own comfort zones and imagine the living, breaking spaces our loved ones can grow their way into. And out of.
Just as no tree lives forever, no home, no matter how well planned, financed and built, is ever permanent. True durability lies in the long arms of others who will care for our relatives beyond our lifetime. It is an embrace that will nourish and honour the spirit of our loved ones wherever they may live.
Note from Donna: Vickie Cammack is my friend and colleague in caregiving whom I hold in very high esteem. Vickie is a recipient of the Order of Canada for her pioneering work in developing models of personal support networks for vulnerable people at risk of social isolation, including the creation of Tyze Personal Networks. Currently, Vickie and I are co-writing a book about caregiving. We don't have a title yet, but we guarantee that it will be interesting.
Monday, 1 February 2016
Recently, I was chatting with friends about why caregivers have so much trouble asking for help. “Maybe it’s because asking for help sometimes feels like a betrayal of the person we love who needs care,” I suggested. “I ask myself if I am behaving like a dutiful daughter. So if I ask for help, I’m not being dutiful and I feel guilty”, my friend nodded thoughtfully.''
Picking apart our complicated feelings about love and obligation is essential in making peace with our emotions about caregiving. And to do that, we must be truthful and compassionate … to ourselves. A good place to begin self-understanding is by completing the 5 Stages of Caregiving Quiz on the Elizz website. I completed the quiz myself and scored INTENSIVE: Often the longest caregiving stage, with complex and increasing care needs. Individual self-identifies as a caregiver. Without support, caregiver may be unprepared and experience unchartered emotions, family conflict and greater impacts on home/work life with risk of burnout and health issues. With support, caregiver may develop a sense of competence, strength.
I am relieved to say that after twenty-seven years of caregiving, I do experience a sense of competence and strength. Over the years, I’ve realized that a key to being at peace with myself has been in the way that I think about my caregiving role. A few years ago, I began to understand that my loved ones had dependency needs that were separate from their personalities. For me, this was a watershed moment. My mother could still be my mother if a personal support worker helped her most days with shopping and meal preparation. My son will always want me if he is ill or in pain, but now that he’s grown up, he wants another man to help him shower and change.
Part of the reason that I experience a sense of competence and strength is because I feel good about asking for help – from family members, friends and paid support workers. Within those circles of support, we all care for my loved ones, but we care for each other and for ourselves, too.
There are lots of quizzes and resources on the Elizz site such as the Styles of Caregiving Quiz. Browse to reflect on your personal caregiving stage and how you feel about your role. There are many services available to assist families, but only you will know which Elizz caregiver services are right for you. Which Elizz caregiver services are right for you?
Sunday, 24 January 2016
Alzheimer's doesn't just change the lives of its sufferers, but the lives of their family and friends as well. Those who witness the decline of someone affected by the illness typically expend a great amount of time, money, emotional and physical energy caring for their loved ones. Still Alice (2014), a riveting movie about early-onset Alzheimer's, depicts the many aspects of living with the disease and caring for someone who has it.
Sunday, 17 January 2016
Here's what one adult hospital wrote about visitors on its website: We encourage you to visit your loved one at any time because we know that having family and friends nearby helps reduce anxiety and isolation and improves healing and recovery for our patients.
In the case of Children's Hospitals, parents are encouraged to 'take part' in their child's care. This is the way one major hospital phrases the parental role on the website:
UPDATE NEWS FLASH: One day after I published this, a news article appeared in Ontario, Canada, announcing that the Minister of Health had mandated half price parking passes for 5, 10 or 30 days. Passes can be transferrable between patient and caregiver. Apparently the cost of one-day passes will remain the same. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/ontario-hospitals-will-have-to-offer-discount-parking-passes-health-minister-says. One tiny step to support the essential role of family caregivers in hospitals.