If you feel like you’re wading through quicksand sometimes, here’s Part Two of my interview with Colleen Kavanaugh of The Longest Dance. Relatable and compassionate, her experience in helping other caregivers find solid ground offers a sense of hope that you can see this caregiving journey through and come out stronger on the other side. It’s reassuring to know that’s possible.
What is your advice to someone who is new to this journey? Get help. I like to use the example of hospitals and other care facilities to illustrate that it takes a village. These communities have a staff of hundreds to handle the care of each patient or resident. One person isn’t assigned to care for another. One person handles a component of care. And, that person doesn’t work 24/7. In whatever way you are able to supplement care or hire out for certain chores and responsibilities, do it. Have experts you can call on for certain issues like legal and financial matters. Think of your caregiving role as a manager building a team of support for you and your caree. Try to remember that you don’t know what you don’t know. But know that you know enough to know you need help.
It’s easy to lose our other selves when we’re caregiving. Share something about you that is unrelated to the caregiving role. Being at the beach, any beach, is my happy place. And I love eating fabulous food. In fact, I am doing this interview with you while waiting in line at Franklin Barbeque in Austin, Texas. While I wouldn’t have flown to another state for barbecue as a caregiver, I did allow myself to rent a beach town’s teeny tiniest bargain rate cottage 8 blocks from the ocean that was just a 20-minute further drive to my Dad, who was at that time in a nursing home during what would be his last summer. I was able to be with him daily, but return to my happy place and give my son a bit of a vacation. I share this story to show that there are ways to creatively sneak in your own joy during what can be the most difficult time of your life. Maybe it’s a class that meets at a time when you are able to get care coverage, or a two-night getaway when a sibling comes to town and can stay with your parent or loved one. Even just a quick manicure before you head into the grocery store can make a difference.
Artists aren’t the only ones with creative gifts. For some, it’s painting or music. For others, it’s making people feel comfortable or cared for. What’s your gift? Maybe a bit like you, Judith, as a “hyper-responsible oldest child,” I have a gift for being hyper-organized. I love connecting with others, and when that connection comes with the opportunity to help them organize their desk, sock drawer or now – medical records, I am in heaven. I am invincible with a well-crafted list and was known at my parent’s doctor’s offices as, “That girl with the clipboard.” Inefficiency drives me wild, and as you can imagine, the unpredictability of caregiving tested my patience like nothing else. Organization was truly my best friend. Don’t underestimate the power of your natural gifts to assist you during your time as a family caregiver! Reflecting back on my experience, if I had to do it all over again, I would tell myself each day to:
- Acknowledge your role
- Prepare as best as you are able
- Look for the light within the dark – it is there
- Subversively sneak in joy whenever and wherever you are able
- Lead your team to support you and the person for whom you care
- Use your natural talents to help in your own uniquely empowering way
And know, above all else, that you’ve got what it takes.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I am living proof, and you will be too!