A Better Today

Memorial DayFor decades, Decoration Day was observed on May 30. Businesses closed their doors to honor and decorate the graves of the American soldiers who had lost their lives in battle. It wasn’t until 1971 when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed, declaring Memorial Day to be observed on the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend to honor our fallen soldiers. While the federal holiday isn’t about the start of summer, it has evolved into that over the past forty-five years.

May is also the month of graduation for many students and for many more it’s the end of a school year which adds to the excitement for the beginning of summer. The anticipation for summer activities and vacation brings some level of stress to most families and when you have a family member with special needs, the anxiety level may increase. Physical, mental and financial limitations can bring disappointment and frustrations when family time doesn’t work out the way we’d hoped.

Often the demands and responsibilities weigh heavily on just one person. Possibly without even realizing it, all of the caregiver’s attention and energy is directed on the one person who seems to have the most needs. However, as Christine reminded us in Laura’s Story, Part 7, there are others who need our care and devotion. As a caregiver, how can you meet the needs of the one with disabilities and not neglect your other loved ones? It’s a very difficult balancing act.

My children had a wise elementary school counselor who was concerned about their needs not being met after our tragic car accident. She recommended I spend some one-on-one time with each child weekly. Following her advice, I took turns taking one child out for ice-cream, bowling or some other activity while the other child stayed home with Mark for an hour or two. At the time, it seemed like a lot of effort on my part, not because I didn’t want to be with them, but I worried about Mark and the child left at home. Although I regret not being able to be more carefree with my children, I treasure the memories of the one-on-one time I spent with them.

In Laura’s Story, Part 6, Christine reminisces about their trip to Disneyland and another fun day at the local amusement park, Lagoon. This article reminded me of the importance of taking time to play with our families. As a caregiver it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the time or the money to do so. However, good memories are important for building a strong family, one that can withstand hardships.

Including Mark, even with his limitations, we tried to continue our summer traditions of barbeques, camping, roasting marshmallows over a campfire and a summer day trip to Lagoon with our kids. We also took a few extended trips over the years to Washington and Arkansas to visit parents, sisters and grandparents. Every outing was much harder and required more planning with Mark’s disabilities. I remember the stress of preparing to leave the house and feeling like my energy was completely drained when returning home from these family activities. However, my efforts are rewarded by good memories that far out-weigh the difficulties. Now that our kids are grown, I cherish those times more than I thought possible. I now realize the benefits of taking a break from our everyday responsibilities and the impact it had on our family’s well-being.

Memorial DayMemorial Weekend is more than looking forward to the start of summer and creating family memories. It’s a time to remember those who gave the ultimate gift. In their honor we should pursue peace and happiness. There is no better place to start than within our own families and building meaningful experiences.

Thank you to all the American military who died in wars fought for our freedoms so we could have a better today and tomorrow.

Please feel free to add any soldier remembrances or ways you’ve created worthwhile family memories.

Six Traits of a Caregiver

CaregivingBeing a caregiver is not for everyone. The responsibilities such as bathing, dressing, feeding and overseeing the safety, physical and emotional needs of another person can be exhausting. Sounds a bit like parenting doesn’t it? Being a parent is one type of caregiving, but there are other types such as a professional who makes a living at it, or a family member, or a friend who are dedicated to help another. No matter what type of caregiver a person may be, there are common and important traits needed to perform caregiving duties successfully.

I was raised to be a caregiver. My parents gave care to their own parents and friends besides caring for their children. I learned from their example. However, I didn’t understand how hard it can be. I want to be clear that I don’t think less of anyone who hires a professional caregiver or caregiving facility as long as they don’t abandon their loved one. I know in some situations hiring a professional is the best and may be the only solution. I acknowledge that some are not physically, mentally, or emotionally able to care for another. By knowing the traits of a caregiver you can recognize if it’s for you and if it’s not, this information will help you find a great caregiver for your loved one.

  1. Empathy. Helps identify vulnerable, scared, confused and uncomfortable feelings. By understanding, you can calm those fears and create a sense of trust. A personal understanding and connection is vital to giving care.
  2. Compassion. Provides the energy and drive needed to sustain you through difficult tasks or while working with a difficult individual.  It also gives you a voice of encouragement and the ability to calm and reassure.
  3. Patience. People being cared for take longer than usual to complete simple tasks or routines. Understanding the limitations of those you care for can help reduce tension in the environment. Good caregivers recognize capabilities and encourage self-sufficiency while still providing necessary levels of care and attention. Having realistic expectations about what an individual is capable of can help you provide the appropriate care. Sometimes their lack of ability can lead to frustration and lashing out. You must be able to separate yourself from potential anger and resentment and not take the situation personally. Being patient means you understand there may be changes in plans or things don’t move as quickly as you’d hope for.  Also, hearing the same old story or question multiple times can become stressful.  Knowing when and how to appropriately “take a moment” to prevent losing patience is essential.
  4. Attentiveness. It is important to be aware of the needs and the changes that are taking place. Being attentive means being a good listener and noticing when there are emotional or physical changes in the personIt’s a bonus to have a creative mind that can and come up with inventive ways to deal with problem situations or overcome resistance.
  5. Composure.  Caregivers often deal with bodily fluids, wound care, bathing and grooming tasks. A good caregiver does not shy away from delicate situations and works to help retain a sense of dignity. Many tasks associated with providing personal care are unpleasant for the caregiver and recipient alike. It can completely change the dynamics of the relationship with a spouse or son/daughter taking on parental tasks. Handling stressful or uncomfortable situations with confidence and grace is an important skill for caregivers. Also, knowing when humor is or is not appropriate helps. A good caregiver doesn’t chide or shame regardless of age or circumstance.
  6. Compromise. In a home or facility care setting, caregivers are bound to encounter other family members with differing ideas on how best to care for a loved one. Conflicts are inevitable. Sometimes you have to compromise to diffuse tense situations. It’s important to thoughtfully focus on what’s needed most to manage disagreements in an effective and positive way.

Being responsible for the care and well-being of another is a highly committed role and is also rewarding.