Caregiving is not for the faint of heart. The physical demands are high, requiring EverReady Bunny energy (“takes lickin’ after lickin,’ but keeps on tickin'”), availability 24/7, with no nights and weekends off. You are caring for your loved one when others are sleeping, pursuing careers or going on vacations. I think the emotional toll can be greater than the physical one, though, since the caregiver battles a constant flow of exhaustion and discouragement. Here are 4 things a caregiver is probably struggling with that they won’t say out loud:
- There is grieving. If your role as a caretaker has begun recently, you are probably experiencing grief over the life you used to have. There is a season of adjustment as you come to terms with this change and creating a “new normal.” Even after you have swallowed the pill you have been given, there are flashes of sadness as you remember the way things used to be or as you see others living seemingly “easy” lives. There is also grief over the things you know your loved one is missing out on. Even if they don’t know what they are missing, you do, and there are times that that rips at your heart. In addition, there can be grief as you watch the one you love suffer or struggle. For me, this will always be the hardest. I am especially bad at watching people I love be in pain, feel sick, not be able to eat, not be able to breathe, not be able to move, not be able to play or do their job. As caregivers, we are in a constant state of some kind of grief.
- The load is heavy. Chronic illness, injury or chemical imbalance is consuming for the sufferer. Struggle, in and of itself, is exhausting. They expend their energy on the most important of tasks, whether that be just getting out of bed or getting through a day at work. Rarely is there much left for help with household chores or childcare. This leaves the caregiver a few choices: Figure out how to be a superhero and take on all the responsibilities at home or major only on the majors, leaving some things undone. Unfortunately, grief makes all laundry baskets heavier and vacuums feel like they are made of concrete.
- The health of the caregiver comes last. This is just the nature of the beast. This is like being a parent but times ten. Since there are only so many hours in a day and with so many needs to be met, caregivers put off going to the doctor until they are about to drop. Factor in the additional expense of caring for a loved one who is chronic and you have yet another excuse to not go to the doctor.
- It is lonely on this island. Chronic illness or disability doesn’t care that you miss your friends. It doesn’t care that you can’t make it to family gatherings or that you used to bring home a lot more bacon. Chronic issues are very isolating, both for the sick person as well as for the caretakers.
The protocol for my husband’s auto-immune disorder is steroids and chemotherapy, giving him a reduced immune system and causing him to be susceptible to every floating germ around. Then once he catches those buggers, his immune system isn’t strong enough to keep them from wreaking havoc. I have seen him go from a sinus infection and bronchitis to sepsis in a matter of hours. That was a party, let me tell you. Needless to stay, we stay home a lot. If we do go out, much has to be weighed and questions have to be asked. “What bugs are going around right now?” , “Are they air-born or can they be killed with hand sanitizer?”, “Are any of the people at this event sick or have they been sick recently?” On and on it goes. There are so many unknowns, so many things we can’t control.
Yes, caregiving is hard, but it gives so many opportunities to trust God; trusting that He is in control because we can’t be. It gives us hundreds of opportunities each day to put aside our needs and wants and put others first. The Bible says that Jesus came to serve, NOT to be served. Maybe that thought can encourage you when you are struggling with exhaustion, discouragement, anger or grief. I believe you are doing what Jesus would have done in taking care of those with needs, lightening the load of those who are burdened and I believe that one day, he will look at you and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”