The Accidental Caregiver

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The first chapter of Coaching for Caregivers is entitled “Stuff Happens.” And it certainly does, as the stories of the three families I featured in the book portrayed. And stuff keeps happening! In mysterious ways, challenging and wonderful. 

As I was putting the finishing touches on the manuscript of the revised edition of the book, my wife, Tsurah, and I were out for a twilight walk, enjoying the sounds of birds and the sights and aromas of blossoms – the best of spring in the Northeastern United States. And while she was enthralled by all this wondrous nature, she tripped, fell, and landed face down on the pavement. 

The good news is that she “only” fractured her wrist, no concussion or broken nose. Not a clean fracture, but one that was made whole in surgery a couple of weeks later. Her wrist healed, and our lives resumed. However, for several weeks, we were on a caregiving/care-receiving journey.

Hitting the ‘pause’ button

I had written Coaching for Caregivers from my own experience of being a caregiver for my parents and mother-in-law. I had learned some things from my own experience, especially about the importance of taking care of myself during these times. Caregiving was in the past tense – I had been a caregiver. 

And so, I was now back in the role of caregiver. Even a few weeks into that process, my wife and I had already learned some rich and deep lessons – lessons worth sharing with other caregivers. 

The first is about how to sustain our being together during this challenging time. Basically, when things get tense between us, we’ve found a way of hitting the “pause” button, listening deeply to each other and then hitting the “reset” button. (Note: more on this in a soon to be published Resilient Caregivers Blog post). It works!

Not surprisingly, another lesson is about the value of reaching out. The night this accident happened, even though she was in acute pain, visibly shaken and in shock, Tsurah refused to go to the ER.  While she was experiencing all of this, She still had enough wisdom and presence of mind to ask me to call a friend of ours who is an acupuncturist and a Chinese medicine practitioner.

So, as it happened, I REACHED OUT! At 9:30 PM on a Saturday night, I reached our friend, and she came right over. Within an hour or two, Tsurah was out of shock, she’d calmed down, and her pain went from an “8” to a “1” or “2.”  

And so we began a journey that continued for several more weeks. We quickly worked out a few practical ways to make the caregiving smoother and to be able to more easily hit that “reset” button.

An outpouring of love

A wrist may be a small part of our anatomy, but it is HUGE in terms of everything we do every moment of every day – maybe except meditating and sleeping.  So, Tsurah, a steadfastly independent person who values being instrumental, somehow quickly managed to do some things around the house, including helping me with some of the cooking, even gardening. At the same time, she couldn’t do many everyday tasks on her own. 

It got easier, and sometimes fun, doing many of these things.  Even putting on her socks. I’m proud that at age 76, I’ve finally learned how to do so (having met my stepchildren when they were way past that age). And doing some things, especially cooking, in ways that are more than simply enough to just get by. Going the extra mile – sautéing the kale with mushrooms and garlic instead of steaming them.  

Beyond that first night with us reaching out to our acupuncture/Chinese medicine practitioner friend, Tsurah put out a message to our congregation’s “caring” listserv and a few others she’s connected to.  A whole cornucopia of offerings of dinner delivered to our door and messages of love and support began showing up. While some of these meal offerings were for both of us, it felt especially touching when I got a loving message to me as a caregiver from a friend, who truly knows about the caregiving journey from his own extended experience of caring for his wife. 

Reaching out for help

At one point, I realized I was bone tired. Suddenly, those offers of dinners delivered to our door started to sound better and better. I had initially said, “thanks, no need” to those generous people. I’d been managing well enough. And, since I was doing okay, why impose on other people’s generosity? Then I remembered a discussion in my book about beliefs, often unconscious, either support them in getting what they need or get in their way. 

One of the questions in the self-assessment questionnaire in my book is about when the right time is to reach out for help. I suggest two “right” answers: “When I have more on my plate than I feel I can handle” and “Anytime I feel it is the right time!”  So, I began to say yes to some of these loving offerings of help. 

And so, even, or better yet, especially during these COVID times, if you are the caregiver right now, I encourage you to pay attention to how you’re doing and open up to ways you can share the care, including getting some of that caring – comfort food! – for yourself.   

And if you are a family member, friend, clergy person, etc. of a person who is now doing caregiving, it’s never too soon to reach out, see how they’re doing, ask permission to be of some help, and let it flow. 

Everyone will be glad you did.