I recently hosted two of my nieces, both with young babies. While I marveled at what fine young women these two have become, I was also impressed with their mothering. It’s a wonder to watch their patient, loving care of these very dependent little humans. The countless interruptions, loss of sleep, and simply arranging one’s life to revolve around the needs of another . . . all with a cheerful acceptance that this is what’s required to make happy, healthy people.
This got me to thinking about the whole idea of giving care across life’s spectrum. How we are called upon to provide care for another, sometimes temporarily, and sometimes for very long periods.
My nieces are young, with seemingly boundless energy to meet the demands of motherhood. (Though, I noted that both fantasize about being able to just sleep!) Their mothering is about love and joy. They know that their babies will soon enough be sturdy young people who require less of them, at least in the physical sense.
Caring for a person with dementia is, of course, a very different kind of care. I am privileged to facilitate a telephone support group for such caregivers, the Caring Connection, twice a month. Caregivers who might find it difficult to attend a traditional, face-to-face support group can connect with each other via phone. And, I marvel at them. They are all well past the ages of my nieces, many of them great grandparents at this stage of their lives. They, too, have been called upon to give care. They, too, must respond to countless interruptions; often go without sleep; and have arranged their lives to revolve around the needs of another. But, the people they care for are continuing to decline and will need more and more from their caregivers, not less.
Our conversations on the Caring Connection are wide-ranging. People are encouraged to share their honest feelings. I loved it that one caregiver felt comfortable enough to say, “I called to complain tonight!” She went on to relate that she had had a particularly difficult day with her loved one; she simply needed to vent. She was in the right place. Others quickly related to her feelings, which were familiar to all. I was deeply touched when one caregiver talked about her realization, in the midst of feeling overwhelmed herself, that her loved one was frightened and overwhelmed as well. Another caregiver talked about how she feels it’s a gift to be able to care for her wonderful mother, even with the challenges involved. They all share resources that have helped and the things that keep them going. Many talk about their faith. And, they remind each other that it’s important to have breaks; to be able to laugh; and to have some fun.
Those who give care are not in the spotlight. Too often they simply fade into the background of our busy days. We don’t see them quietly holding the world together. So, today, let’s lift them up into the place of honor that they so richly deserve.
Susan Formby is a Care Consultant at the Atlanta office of the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter.