Yes, I am talking to you. Maybe you care for a loved one with dementia at home. Or maybe they are in a nursing home or assisted living–or perhaps in their own home. Maybe they are in the early stages of dementia or maybe they are close to death.
Or maybe you don’t have a loved one with dementia. Maybe your parents are aging and needing more support. Or your spouse had surgery and has to stay in bed for a few weeks. Perhaps your friend lost their husband and it’s your job to emotionally support them and make sure they are caring for their own health. Or someone you care about has depression.
There are very few of us who have not had to take on a caregiver role in some way (physical, emotional, financial, etc.) either for a short or long duration.
Part of being a human being is caring for someone you love when they need extra help.
No matter the extent or nature of your caregiving, I want you to know this:
You will mess it up.
Not the whole thing, of course. But within your caregiving journey (I hate the word journey but can’t think of anything better), you will make mistakes.
You’ll say the wrong thing. You’ll forget to ask the doctor an important question. You’ll fail to pay the utility bill. You’ll make a meal that is a real “clunker.” (That’s what my stepdad calls my mom’s meals when they don’t work.)
Big mistakes. Perhaps you wonder if that nursing home you chose is really taking the best care of your mom. Small mistakes. You lost your patience when your husband asked the same question for the hundredth time. And then you apologized before sitting in your closet and crying for 5 minutes.
A caregiver I know once accidentally gave her dog’s medication to her husband and her husband’s medication to the dog. Fortunately, both were fine, but she was horrified.
Why am I telling you this?
I am telling you this because I know too many caregivers who think they are supposed to be perfect.
You haven’t been perfect in any area of your life, even those areas where you really excelled. Why would you expect to be perfect here?
I’m a good spouse, but I’m not a perfect spouse. I’m a good professor, but I’m not a perfect professor. I’m a good dog mom, but I’m not a perfect dog mom.
You’re a good caregiver, but you’re not a perfect caregiver. Loving someone doesn’t mean we are able to give them perfect care. It just means we love them.
And here’s the thing…caregiving takes a lot of physical and mental energy. You don’t have enough energy left to beat yourself up for mistakes. So don’t.
Let it go. Accept you’re not perfect. And go on.
There are things you can’t change. You didn’t cause dementia, and you can’t change it. Progression of disease is out of your control.
If you had done something differently, your loved one would still have dementia. If you had done something differently, your loved one would have still declined.
That’s the way dementia goes.
Dementia does what it does.
We try to create the best quality of life for those living with dementia. We do the best we can, but the best we can doesn’t change the fact that someone has dementia.
We can’t love away dementia, just like we can’t love away cancer or AIDs or any other disease (even depression). We support people as they negotiate health issues, but we need to remember that we don’t have control over those health issues.
Sometimes we need to realize that it’s not our job to fix things.
Not everything is fixable.
So if you’d indulge me for one second…think about something in your caregiving experience that makes you proud. Did you find a solution to help your loved one find more restful sleep? Did you make them laugh? Did you advocate for them at the hospital? Did you learn to make the perfect vanilla milkshake for when they don’t feel well?
I know you’ve got a win. In fact, I know you’ve got many wins.
Stop for a second and reflect on them. I am grateful that there are people in the world who caregive as you do.
In case there is no one else in your life to tell you this, I am proud of you.
Take a breath. Keep going.
See you in 2021.