To Kora and Jilly, I did it for you.
Written by Louisa Wiebe Stringer, Family Caregiving Consultant
It is safe to say that in the last 10 years, I have managed to tell the story of my youngest daughter and her battle with cancer as a prevalent part to an awakening of who I am. But I have failed to explain an even bigger part of the picture, and perhaps the most important one of them all. This became abundantly clear to me about two months ago when my oldest daughter (Kora) and middle daughter (Jilly) were sitting with me at the kitchen table. I am not sure how the conversation turned to what I do for work. Perhaps we were talking about employment, jobs, and future stuff. My oldest asked something along the lines of, “Mom, you started your business because of Sephine, right?” Perception plays a vital role in the stories we tell ourselves and others. Up until this question from my daughter was asked, I would have undoubtedly believed that “of course” would have been the answer. I can see why it would be perceived this way. I can see why anybody would think that I started advocating for the family caregiver because of Sephine’s battle. Yet the answer I gave the girls that day was the one I have truly been searching for since the beginning. I didn’t even take a breath as I heard myself choking out the words. “Girls, I started my business because of the two of you.” This answer enhanced in clarity as the words continued out of my mouth...
I wanted to be a better mother to the two of you because of all that was happening with your sister. I want other moms and caregivers to know that they can continue to be wonderful parents, wives, husbands, siblings, children, co-workers, employers, even in the midst of such hardship.
There it was. That was the clarity I have been looking for. For too long the perceived notion was that I was only focused on my child with the disease. The reality was and is very accurately, that it is about all the others I desired to be present with and for in my life, especially my two other children. I didn’t want to lose that. I longed for that continued presence with everyone else which provided so much for me as a person. I didn't want caregiving to break me, I wanted it to enhance me. There is no doubt that in every painful unknown turn in our lives, we discover remarkable findings from the hardship and our survival. I understood this when I realized how desperately I wanted to start advocating for family caregivers who get overwhelmed, lost, anxiety driven, hurt, and misunderstood. I did, and always do, want to remind them to extend to themselves the same graciousness and warmth they do to the loved ones they care for. November is National Family Caregivers Month.
Being a family caregiver to a loved one involves a large amount of time and mental, emotional, and physical energy. Caregivers are more often than not underprepared to perform the many tasks required of them. The psychosocial and physical health and well being of a patient/loved one and a caregiver can oftentimes be related and have long lasting health impacts.
Being a family caregiver to a loved one involves a large amount of time and mental, emotional, and physical energy.
A recent AARP study showed that in 2020 the amount of family caregivers rose to 53 million individuals in the United States. These numbers span the generations as we see more and more Gen Z caring for their loved ones. Family caregivers are not just those caring for their elderly parents or spouses. These wonderful individuals come in all struggles of life of a loved one living with significant disease, impairment or disorder. This study also showed that family caregivers are in worse health than they were 5 years ago. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to know how family caregivers can be best acknowledged and cared for as well. I wish I could tell you that there are five simple steps to being a healthier caregiver. There is no such thing. Every story, struggle and journey is so unique and different. But here are two nuggets of knowledge I know for sure.
Family caregivers need their own caregivers. This provides the feeling of being cared for, loved, and acknowledged.
Family caregivers need to permit themselves to feel grief and sorrow. This allows space within them to welcome strength and peace.
As I wiped away the tears on my cheeks while talking to Kora and Jilly that day, I saw them looking back at me, both smiling so sweetly. I am forever grateful for the continued clarity that has come to be because of my own caregiving journey. Yes girls, I did it for you.
I am sure you are aware of family caregivers around you, perhaps you are one, you have been one or you are preparing to be one. Unfortunately, there is no one single place to find all the answers we need when we are caregiving a loved one. In the last 2 years I have worked with more than 150 individual family caregivers on their own individual journeys with caregiving. I also continue to work with several businesses and organizations that recognize the need to care for their employees who are family caregivers. I look forward to many years of this to come. I will not cease on raising awareness and advocating for these wonderful individuals.
Louisa Wiebe Stringer Family Caregiving Consultant www.louisawiebestringer.com "To your core, you are loved"