Caregiving is Full of Stories

 

"Caregiving is full of stories, and sometimes we need somebody to walk with us-someone who knows us well and whom we trust with parts of our stories that most people will never hear." ~Henri Nouwen, Hope for Caregivers, 2017

 

The caregiver role can sometimes take us on a lonely journey as we can become less connected with our friends and community. In his timeless wisdom and compassion for caregivers, Henri Nouwen wrote a series of devotional books to guide and support those on this love mission. Over the next few weeks, I want to share his insights to bring hope into your lives. I will also share some of the caregiving tips and memories I hold in my heart after being a caregiver for my mother-in-law Kate, who lost her battle with dementia. I was also a caregiver for my father many years ago, who was in hospice care for terminal lung cancer. I encourage you to journal during this time in your life, reflecting and writing your unique experiences on your journey.

 

"The Eyes of Pain": Week one of Nouwen's devotional begins with the reflection that so much of caregiving is invisible, unseen by anyone but the caregiver. This can lead to feeling under or unappreciated. All of the little things you do: from cleaning to cooking, paying bills (which can be overwhelming during medical crises), doing laundry, keeping records, and administering multiple medications, can keep us busy but also can be exhausting. How does a caregiver find sustenance, renewal, joy, and peace? I found it by having time alone with God every morning, even if I had to wake up at 4:00 am, would increase my spiritual and emotional resilience for the day. 

I put a glider rocking chair and a small bookshelf in the corner of my bedroom. I included a lovely small Tiffany lamp with a soft light (so as not to awaken my husband) on the bookshelf, along with a small lavender-scented candle, a pen, and my favorite books, my bible, and my favorite devotionals. I also had a Keurig coffee maker in the bathroom of this room so that I could have my morning coffee while sitting in my corner, my sanctuary, for reading, journalling, and praying. This routine helped sustain me on my journey of caregiving.

 

Caregiving Tip: Prepare a binder (3-ring binder with pocket dividers) to keep copies of important records such as the following:

  • Personal information for your loved one:  Name, Date of Birth, Address, Phone number
  • Brief Medical and surgical history
  • Any allergies to medications or food, including over-the-counter medications
  • Current list of medical providers, their specialties, address, phone numbers
  • Ask for copies of results to include: lab results, X-rays, special tests (CT scans, MRIs)
  • Advanced directives and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (these are different and will be discussed in future blogs)
  • Calendar of upcoming appointments
  • Keep a section with blank paper to write down key information from phone calls and a list of your questions for the medical providers (we often forget when we are at the appointment)

 

Take this binder with you when you go to medical appointments or to an emergency room. It can be an invaluable tool for communication.

 

Caregiver Reflection: (Henri Nouwen)

The root of obedience is the Latin word audire, which means "listening." Living a spiritual life is one in which we listen to the voice of God's Spirit within us and then try to respond to that voice at every moment of our lives. God is actively present at all times and in all places. God cares for, heals, guides, directs, challenges, and comfort us. We should be constantly attentive to this presence and allow God to love us.

 

Journal:

  • In what ways does God call your name as a caregiver and goes ahead of you?

  • In what environment do you feel most open to hearing what God wants to say to you? (mine was in my sanctuary rocking chair)

 

Guided Autobiography groups: Writing and sharing your life stories with a small supportive group on zoom has been shown to increase emotional healing and provide a nurturing group offering the connection with others that can be lost while on this journey. I invite you to consider joining me for a Guided Autobiography workshop. New zoom class to begin in April. Email me if interested.