Crisis is upon you… A loved one is fighting for their life. So many people may want to help, but they don’t know what to do. Understanding the emotional volatility of a caregiver and their family is a good starting place.
The Human Side of Caregiving
Taking care of someone you love who is dealing with a life-and-death health battle may be the single biggest challenge you face in life. Not only do you have to stretch your own life in a hundred different ways, but you’re also losing the support of someone who was once there for you if that person is a close family member or spouse. Not only are you confronting your loved one’s fears about pain, death and dying, but you are confronting your own. You’re exhausted and find yourself going blank when a doctor, nurse or health care professional is speaking to you. You are unable to set limits on how much time you spend on your loved one’s health problems.
Your emotional swings are as manic as theirs. Chronically sleep-deprived, you snap at your family, forget to care for your dog or cat, lose your car keys or glasses, and even forget why you went into a room when you get there! You feel totally responsible, guilty, embarrassed at your own fears and often are not able to articulate this to anyone. You may even feel guilty for being healthy and neglect your own health! You stop going to the health club. Your job begins to suffer. You begin to withdraw socially, never having the energy or down time for fun. You forget to laugh because nothing is funny anymore.
Unless someone has gone through a sudden life-and-death health battle themselves or with a family member they do not understand what you are feeling. You stop sharing your challenges because you feel that no one wants to hear your problems all the time and your life is consumed with challenges every minute of every day so you have nothing else to share. You may even create an invisible wall around yourself. Bottom line…you know you must keep going even as the problems mount.
Some caregivers are seen as a rock; the one everyone goes to and depends on, the one with answers and assurances. Others find themselves a puddle, incapable of doing more than being present in the room with the person who is battling for their life. Either way, as a caregiver you deal with the very real possibility that you may have to face the death of someone you deeply love and care for. Truth is, no one wants to confront life-threatening health conditions unless forced to!
Knowing how a caregiver feels is a starting point to being a supportive friend. Assure caregivers that you want to hear about their challenges. Encourage them to share. Be willing to step up if you know there is something you can do or if there are others you know who can help. Understanding how they feel is a first step in helping keep them emotionally healthy during this challenging journey with their loved one.