March 17, 2021
I was going through my email the other day and found some old emails from my sister. I stumbled upon something she wrote about caregivers, something she had written about me and other caregivers and I wanted to share it with you guys:
Being a caregiver to a sick family member or loved one can be a thankless exhausting job, much like being a parent, but less rewarding.
A caregiver has to deal with someone that is often times cranky, angry, or stubborn or doesn’t want to eat or exercise. It can be stressful and frustrating!
A caregiver sometimes has to do things they didn’t sign up for or do things they would never imagine having to do. They shouldn’t be made to feel guilty when they have feelings of frustration, anger, or resentment!
A caregiver is in the trenches with the person they are taking care of. They see and experience the ugly side of illness or recovery. And when it’s someone they love and are close too, it’s makes it that much harder when they see us suffer. Emotionally it has to be exhausting!
A caregiver a lot of the time puts their life on hold to take care of someone else and forgets that they have to take care of themselves too.
A caregiver sometimes has to deal with a lot of texts, emails and phone calls for updates on the person they are caring for. More often than not, nobody ever asks how they are. Don’t just ask about or what you can do for the person they are taking care of. The caregiver is already taking care of all their needs. Sometimes ask what can you do for them or just do something nice for them. Sometimes a small gesture goes a long way.
My sister tirelessly takes care of me. She cooks, cleans, does laundry, goes to every appointment/infusion with me, remembers every question and answer from the doctor, knows all my medications and when I need to take them. She has done things that she never imagined having to do like wound changes and port flushes. She helps me wash my hair when I can’t shower, she feeds me when I’m too exhausted to eat. She was with me every day when I was in the hospital for 2 weeks. She holds my hand when I’m scared or in pain. She puts on a brave face no matter how torn up she feels inside.
I am forever grateful and there isn’t enough I can do to ever show her how much I appreciate all that she does for me. Let’s not forget to take care of the real heroes!
I have recently received some information about a few different friends/family who are in this very situation. They are fighting different health battles, but none the less, the role of the caregiver is very much the same. The physical and emotional toll this takes on both the sick loved one and the caregiver is unimaginable. I know this first hand; I know how much of a struggle it is to keep a happy face on the outside while completely falling apart on the inside. A caregiver’s both emotional and physical state is stretched thin and tested to its limits. The caregiver does not take care of themselves as much as they should, because their number one focus is their loved one. While I was taking care of my sister, I lost 15 to 20 lbs., my hair started to fall out, I started to have panic attacks and severe anxiety. The constant worry and stress was overwhelming at times and I tried my best to hide it from my sister because I didn’t want her to worry about me. I was so lucky to have family and friends to help me through it, and I did seek out a mental health professional to help with the panic attacks and anxiety. We all need help from time to time and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I needed to help myself so I could be there for my sister, so I could provide the best care I could, which is what she deserved.
I am writing this, because if you have loved ones who are fighting a battle, please reach out to both the sick one and the caregiver. Spend time with the one fighting, don’t treat them any differently, talk to them the same (my sister said she hated it when people would pity her or talk to her like she was already gone). Don’t ask what the caregiver needs (a lot of times they won’t ask for help, or feel like they deserve it). Drop off meals or groceries, offer to help clean or do laundry. Offer to spend time with the sick loved one so the caregiver can get out of the house to take a much needed and deserved break. Ask how the caregiver is doing, if there are more than one of you, have one person stay with the sick person and take the caregiver out to lunch or a park for coffee. It’s these little things that can be most helpful and beneficial to both the sick one and caregiver who needs to recharge in order to continue to provide the best care they can. I know with Covid restrictions some of these things may not be okay, but if all involved are vaccinated, it could be easier.
Do what you can to help others, especially those who are fighting for their lives and those who are tirelessly taking care of them. Life is too short to be an asshole, give back, pay it forward. Do what you would want, if you were in their position. A little kindness goes a long way, and this world definitely needs more of that.
To those caregivers out there who are far (door dash or grocery delivery is just a click away, cleaning services, laundry services can all be arranged), those close to me, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for help. I have been there; I know how hard it is. I am still a chef; I will whip up anything to help take off the burden of cooking some meals. I will do laundry, clean your house (yes even the bathrooms, even though we all know how much cleaning a toilet makes me queasy, I am working on that). I will be a shoulder to cry on, or just sit in silence with you, knowing that sometimes that’s all you need. I will be there to hang out with your loved one while you get out of the house, I know you need that. Being there for each other is the best gift of all, we are a team. Tag me in, I got you!! I know I have a crazy schedule with work right now, but I will sacrifice sleep to help you out in any way I can. I know you are sacrificing sleep, eating, self-care. It’s the least I can do.
Being my sister’s caregiver was the hardest thing but also the most rewarding and I wouldn’t change a thing. I was so lucky to be by her side every day through the good and bad, be her advocate, be her rock. All my love and care couldn’t save her, and I would have given my life for hers. Despite my heartbreak and being here without her, there is some comfort knowing that I did everything I possibly could and she was never alone without me.
Much love to everyone and Happy St. Patrick’s Day as well. Missing my family tonight and sharing our traditions of corned beef and cabbage, my mom’s Irish soda bread, and just being together.