I have noticed an abundance of articles about the stress and burden that goes with the role of being a caregiver. I have to assume responsibility for writing and speaking about this topic. It occurred to me we don’t spend enough time highlighting the positive and rewarding aspects that can come from being a caregiver for a family member.
The comments I will make in this article are as a result of my personal experience as a caregiver for my father and friends and from my professional experience as a medical social worker. I recognize that all caregiver experiences are unique to the caregiver and the person being cared for. There are always good moments and times of feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. I had these during my role as a caregiver as well.
The quality of the caregiver experience is influenced by a multitude of factors including the type of relationship between the caregiver and person being cared for, the nature and frequency of the help that is needed, the ability of the caregiver to do what is needed and be available, and the sense of appreciation the caregiver feels.
Here are some potential highlights that can occur in you role as a caregiver for a family member:
Enhances or Repairs Personal Relationships
Your role as a caregiver for a family member offers the opportunity to spend more time together. It can create moments for more talks, increased intimacy and candor, and repairing relationships that may have had past unresolved issues. It can help you redefine your relationship in meaningful ways and discuss future mutual goals and expectations.
Many of us feel good about ourselves when we believe we have made a difference in the lives of people that we love or care about. Caregiving by definition offers the opportunity to offer physical and emotional support to a loved one needing help. Your role as an advocate can impact the quality of life for a loved one and can help ensure they get the proper level of care and support. It also can be personally affirming when you feel you are helping someone who has helped you in the past.
Self Reflection and Growth
The process of caring for someone who is incapacitated in some way or dying and needs help can cause the caregiver to reflect on his/her own beliefs about many things. This may include questions regarding what or who brings quality and meaning to your life? What are your beliefs about death and what happens when you die? It can also result in reexamination about who you value in your life and what if anything do you want to do in terms of changing those relationships. Finally, caregiving causes many people to ask themselves what they want to do with their remaining days. Some people also surprise themselves in terms of how they face their role as caregiver finding physical and emotional reserves they had not realized they had.
Sense of Accomplishment
Many people report a feeling of self accomplishment in their role as a caregiver. They feel good about being there in meaningful ways for a loved one. The direct involvement also helps them feel they did all they possibly could for a loved one and hence they do not express regrets about things they did not do after they loved one has died. There is also a sense of accomplishment in terms of the daily creative aspects of caregiving that arise when you find a special connection with a loved one or help them to do something today they did not do yesterday. Knowing that your efforts have brought a quality of life (even if only for a brief time) for a loved offers a strong sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction.
Connecting With Others
The caregiver role can connect you with others in important and meaningful ways. Being a member of the caregiving team with others brings you closer. Personal highlights with family members can result in time together, exchanging stories and feelings, and being there to emotionally and physically support each other and a loved one. We should never underestimate the importance of our connection with other caregivers. This can occur in person, in support groups, or online in chat rooms or on caregiver websites. Bonding with someone who understands what you are going through because they have been there creates a powerful connection. Their empathy and support is born from a shared personal experience that can help strengthen you at times of self doubt, isolation, or loneliness.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. Role Reversal is the winner of 5 major book awards. Ms. Waichler has been a medical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done freelance writing, counseling, and workshops on patient advocacy and healthcare related issues for 17 years. Find out more at her website http://iriswaichler.wpengine.com