Thursday 10 September 2015

How To Be A Resilient Caregiver - Especially When Change Hits Hard

Resilience is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days.  Everyone needs it and everyone wants it, especially people giving or receiving care.   And the truth is we all need resilience the most at times of big life changes or transitions. 

We mine our reserves of strength and optimism when our children with disabilities graduate to high school, or even scarier – adulthood.  We look for ways of coping and remaining calm when our aging parents move from family homes into assisted living accommodations.  What exactly is resilience, and how can we all get some?

To me, resilience is the ability to remain whole throughout a process of change.  Profound, transformative change buffets us, threatening to fracture or morph us into forms of being that we no longer recognize as ourselves.  Resilient people do not think about change as primarily consisting of loss and they weather transition without being destroyed by it.  They see their core as impermeable and perceive change as just that: a transformation of their environment.  Resilient people look at their new surroundings and ask, “What can I do today with all of this?”

My husband’s aunt Nellie is a geriatric physiotherapist.  She helps elderly residents of Montreal to maintain their mobility and independence as long as possible.  I asked her what she thought was the principal ingredient of resilience in her clients.  “I think people who weather change the best are those who aren’t alone”, she said, and then added,  “Those who do well are the ones whose families have talked WITH them all through the planning of a move.”  Nellie explained that when an elderly person has a debilitating accident, for example, and is transported to a nursing home without prior discussions or consultations about the move, that individual is bound to be confused and heartbroken by his transition. 

I reflected on our family’s move back to Canada from England in 2011.  Our son Nicholas was to move into a care home directly from the airport upon arrival.  I thought about our entire family supporting Nick with daily visits for months after his move.  I thought about our long family discussions with Nick about his impending move from home. I remembered that I bunked in with Nick for the first couple of weeks in order to train staff and support our young man.  Certainly he wasn’t alone and for sure, he had the opportunity to voice opinions, hopes and fears about what the future might hold at his new address.   That said, transition is never easy, because change is uncomfortable.  It threatens our habitual ways of being and stresses our sense of ease in daily life.  From time to time Nicholas still expresses his worries about his life away from us and we are there to listen. 
Nick being welcomed to his new digs by family and friends - August 30, 2011

I think Nellie is right – helping someone (and ourselves) be resilient at times of transition is about understanding the power of group support and it’s about talking through the change.  The next time I feel threatened by a looming transition in my family, I’ll try to remember Nellie’s good advice, because weathering change with resilience makes us strong and wise – qualities that are like gold – beautiful and precious.

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