A loved one's death can be traumatic and tragic. It can mark the end of a frequently challenging caregiving journey where family members and others will have provided help and support. Caregivers will often fondly remember what they accomplished for their loved one and share these memories with others.
What doesn't get as much attention, however, is what caregivers do following their own time helping and supporting a loved one.
As a former co-caregiver for both of my aging parents (Mom had Parkinson's disease and Leukemia while Dad had Alzheimer's disease), I know now that caregiving can be a powerful teacher… I learned many new things about myself and my own capabilities. I can safely say that, by going through the trials and tribulations of caregiving, I have become a better person-- more self-confident and more willing to try new things and, as a result, have accomplished much since Mom and Dad's deaths. The most obvious example-- I wrote a book, Caregiver's Guide for Canadians.
Writing had proved to be an effective coping mechanism for me during Mom and Dad's final years.
During my time as a caregiver, I journaled routinely to privately vent my thoughts and frustrations. A number of my stories became published content in local newspapers and magazines. With eldercare being a timely and topical issue in our country (due to maturing baby boomers), I realized that many others would become caregivers themselves (or would be currently serving as such) and these individuals would benefit from help and support themselves. Some years after Mom and Dad had gone, I sought out a book publisher, pitched the idea and was awarded a contract! What I had previously written became the platform for my book.
Looking back at what I achieved before Mom and Dad passed away has made me interested in achieving more in my life. Life is too short! I've long been (secretly) interested in improving my own public speaking skills so I've joined a local Toastmaster's club.
After caregiving myself, I wanted to give back to caregivers still in it.
So I joined the Board of Directors of the Alberta Caregiver's Association (ACGA). The ACGA is a province-wide organization which refers, hosts information sessions and offers a "COMPASS for the Caregiver" workshop (which emphasizes the importance of caregiver self-care and allows participants to explore diverse emotions). I have recently begun my second two-year term with them and enjoy participating, helping to steer the association, meeting other (current and former) caregivers and supporting a worthy cause.
Another adventure after caregiving?
I took up running. I began by joining a running group for pure novices. This "Learn to Run" group met regularly and provided both encouragement and inspiration. We began with the very basics - we would walk a minute and then run a minute. I chugged along and panted, but built up my stamina and am now running up to 10 km three times per week! I know I will never break any land speed records with my own running, but I have certainly felt much better from doing it!
Where you go from your own caregiving experiences will vary considerably, based on your own interests and lifestyle.
Whether you too write a book, foster stronger family relationships or land new work, remember that it is for you to keep that door open as you just never know what might come your way!
Rick Lauber is a former co-caregiver, established freelance writer and author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians (Self-Counsel Press). Rick’s book is available for purchase at national Chapter’s bookstores and online.