I have been dreading dealing with this topic - being a caregiver - for days, but it is important. I read an article recently while pursuing answers for myself. The article was followed by dozens of posted comments that broke my heart. It was a call to action. So without further ado, a major effort not to sound whiny, and a heart full of love for my helpers AND the ones that do not help:
How do you ask for help when you are the primary caregiver for an elderly parent?
Most of the comments following the article I read were filled with despair, anger and resentment both from caregivers trying to keep an elderly family member safe and well, without support, as well as from family members who chose not to be involved and from their perspective, had become the object of anger and resentment and were being shut out when they did try to visit or participate.
I have been incredibly lucky to have friends that pop in and give a hand or just visit, people that help with the house and Mom's care, and a most of all, a husband who has supported and tolerated all this disruption and separation for years now.
I never expected this would be an issue with my family. And I was surprised, then hurt, then angry when it was. One family member actually told me that I took on my Mom's care against 'everyone's' better advice. (REALLY?) So if I was not happy with my lot that was too bad. My "problem"? No. Not my "problem". My mother.
It turns out that that is a common 'defense' from the non-helpers. Another 'defense' is that they just didn't know what to do or that help was wanted. A caregiver reported that her sister started helping after she came to the house and found the caregiver crying.
So what do you do?
Well, I love the internet for just this sort of thing! The number of articles, blogs, links is amazing. I Googled "How to Ask for Help", then "How to Ask for Help When You are a Caregiver for a Parent". Both searches got me good answers. Some points appeared in many of the sources that made good sense across the board:
1. Ask - no one that I know can read minds. Assuming that someone knows what you wish they would do and what you need is going to get nothing done fast Be clear. Be specific. Please don't bully, scream or apply guilt. Ask.
2. Don't ask - be selective and infrequent when asking for help. It is my policy not to ask if there is any way out of it. I never ask twice. I try not to ask unfairly: you cannot expect your people to jeopardize their jobs or do things they just aren't equipped to do just because you have to.
3. Do Unto Others - Be a helper. Demonstrate that you are willing to give support as well as receive it. Offer up front to make a reciprocal effort on their behalf.
4. Accept what they Do Unto You - receive gratefully whatever help is granted or offered. It may not be what you needed but sometimes allowing something different and appreciating that which is given opens the gates
Now. Be prepared to be disappointed. If they wanted to help you they would be asking you what you need, right? There are reasons. Obviously, they might really be selfish, lazy and heartless. I am inclined to think that people generally want to be good to each other so it might be about fear, or upset, or inadequacy, or some other something...you can't know what drives some people toward you and some others away.
You have to teach your heart this thing: The response not to help is not about you. It is about them. As the consequences of their absence are going to be theirs to bear. Let it Be.
The important thing is to give good quality care to the one who needs it. If you need help and are not getting it from your family there are other avenues. Paid caregivers can be expensive but it may be necessary to hire someone to give you some kind of relief and take on some of your care load. There are volunteers out there who can give you a break. Find them.
Also, allow those people who do offer help to give it. One of my neighbors offered to be available on Monday afternoons to keep my Mom company. My first inclination was to tell her no, that was too much for her to do! And although I do not need that much coverage right now I know that I can schedule appointments or meet ups on Mondays without leaving my mother alone. So I can call my neighbor when I need her. That is a huge gift and a treasure to me.
Finally, this comforting posted comment from a caregiver which I will keep in my own heart and mind on this journey:
"We caregivers don't volunteer or sign up for this role- which is what I've always thought- but rather we are "chosen" to take care of our loved ones and to make their last moments here on earth peaceful and memorable."
Do this service with all the love you can muster and as you do, love yourself for having been chosen. Cast out resentment and blame and unlove when it arises whatever its source. For you are not in service to your parent or family. Your service is to your Creator and all Creation. In doing this work now you are giving a specific gift to your specific person. But in the way of these things, your gift is sending its ripples out into the greater Universe.
Be good. Do good. Share this if you know someone it might help. Come back here where next time I promise to talk about something fun!
Love Big Ya'll, Lisa