Think of a family you know that has it all together. They’re successful, always smiling, full of faith, always there for each other.
It’s an illusion.
Simply put, every family has “stuff”. You may not see it. They may keep it well hidden, but it’s there. Mine is no different. As long as families are made up of flawed individuals, there will always be different dynamics that come into play.
So what does this have to do with caregiving?
Well, it makes it hard. Very, very hard. It’s like playing twister with your family. You’re not just trying to put your left foot on a blue circle. You’re trying to avoid getting hit in the head by your parent or your sibling knocking your feet out from under you. You look at them and they smile. They’re just playing the game. But now you’re bruised. You can’t quit the game. If you do, your loved one with the terminal illness is the one that suffers. You love them too much to quit so you just suck it up and keep playing.
Sometimes, it feels more like walking through a minefield. You have a goal. You’re there to help your loved one with their illness. You’re trying to remain in one piece and get to the other side. But sometimes, a piece of you gets blown up along the way. Call it friendly fire.
For example, a friend of mine reached out to me a few months ago ~ let’s call him Matt. His elderly mother was moving out of her house and into a retirement home when he discovered she had become very forgetful. His fear was that she had dementia, so I encouraged him to call the Alzheimer’s Association hotline number, which is available 24/7. Matt took her to see her doctor but she refused to let him sit in on the visit so he had no idea what transpired. In her mind, Matt’s mother was independent and able to take care of her own health needs. But that wasn’t reality.
Another friend ~ we’ll call her Dianne ~ messaged me a few weeks ago that her father drove around for hours, forgetting how to get home. Dianne was naturally concerned that he might have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, but with two siblings, her opinion wasn’t well respected because “she was the youngest.” Sometimes getting a parent to see a neurologist can be a Herculean effort because one sibling is in denial or another lives too far away to understand the severity of the situation.
Both Matt and Diane love their parents and wanted to get them the healthcare they needed. But they had to dance around a minefield first. Truth be told, they probably still aren’t finished dancing.
I would love to give them a map that shows them where all the mines are hidden. I’d love to warn them to stay away from certain areas. But the fact is, after being a caregiver for nine years, I’m still stepping on mines. (And I’ve stepped on many.)
So what do you do? How do you care for your loved one and maintain a good relationship with your parent/siblings in the process?
Seek Professional Help
There are compassionate and expertly trained people who know all about these minefields. It’s their job to help families work through the dynamics and get their loved one the help they need. Sometimes you need a third, objective party to come in and help everyone see the task at hand and put the dynamics to the side. One of my favorites is Senior Provisions, headed by Hans and Amy Hentschel. They don’t see this as their job, but their calling.
One of the wisest decisions I ever made since I moved in with my parents to be their caregiver was to see a counselor on a regular basis, something the experts call ‘self-care’. Trained counselors can look at a situation objectively, ask you questions you never thought to ask and help you cross the minefield unscathed. As Providence would have it, my counselor has personal experience with helping aging parents.
Tell God everything. Spill out your heart. Cry on His shoulder. Ask Him for wisdom and strength. Thank Him for all the blessings. And then do it all over again tomorrow. Your caregiving journey has the potential to change you for the better. But the only way that can truly happen is if you yield yourself and everything to God.
Your family is your family. You may not see eye to eye, but you love them. No matter how many times they hit you in the head or cause you to fall and knock the wind out of you, your choice to forgive them ~ even if they don’t see that they did anything wrong ~ is the best way to move forward. No matter how much time you spend disagreeing with family members on how to help your loved one, make sure to spend more time telling them that you love them. And if they decide to quit playing twister and stay on the sidelines, know that God will NEVER abandon you. He will ALWAYS provide someone to stand in their place to give you the help you need.
Remember ~ no matter how many years you’ve been a caregiver, it’s temporary. Family is forever.