Finding the Humor in the Midst of Caregiving

Finding the Humor in the Midst of Caregiving
Caring for a loved one can be many things, but when we think of exhausting also think of enriching and when we think of hard also think of humorous and when we think of stressful also think of silly.

"You have to have humor as a caregiver," said Teddi Samuels. "You can't function sanely if you take what is happening at that moment too seriously. It's almost ridiculous to be showering your father or changing Depends for your aunt or uncle -- I've been in that role myself."

Ms. Samuels, who has been a caregiver for her aunt and uncle as well as her parents, said that humor is the saving grace for anyone sandwiched between her roles as daughter, mother, wife, friend and coworker.

One of her saving graces was not just humor in the moment, but keeping a “joy journal” to record happy moments. She also found a support system and suggest other family caregivers do the same---whether it's at church, online or with friends, starting a blog or avoiding negative news on TV or online.

"When people get together, humor can become a natural part of the conversation," she said. "Laughing reduces stress."

Laugh Until It Hurts

You have to have humor as a caregiver Nancy Hallowell and her husband lived less than 10 minutes from her father. In his 80s, Ms. Hallowell's father lived with his wife and was fairly independent, but a spinal disorder caused his legs to crumple often. Ms. Hallowell and her husband became her father’s "fire department" -- the people he called when he could not get up after a fall.

"I got good at picking people up off the ground and making sure their legs weren't broken," she said with a laugh.

Ms. Hallowell said that her "kind and understanding" husband only put up a "modest protest" once during those years, and that was on the night of their wedding anniversary when special plans were canceled as they rushed to her father.

"When we become our parents' caregivers, the rules change," she said. "We are still respectful, but now we're more in charge, so to speak, and that's a delicate dance."

Each Moment Counts

Being able to laugh off the indignities and challenges of caregiving does not mean that it is not incredibly difficult to hold each aspect of one’s life together simultaneously.

"We tend to gloss over the demands that caregiving places on families," Ms. Samuels said. "People find themselves spending more time with their aging parent than their spouse. There are divorces, missing times -- like going to your own daughter's soccer game. It's pretty serious business."

Ms. Samuels was appointed a guardian of her uncle when she was only 32 and he had Alzheimer's -- a time when she was already married with children.

"You have to detach," she said. "Or life can become a real chore."

Ms. Hallowell speaks fondly of her father, who has since passed away, yet she can acknowledge the strain it put on her. "I love to travel," she said. "Then you worry, 'what will happen when I'm out of town?' and that's the real impact -- not so much on my marriage, but on my psyche."

But what Ms. Hallowell remembers the most are what she calls the "sweet, lovely memories" she made with her father in his final days -- a wheelchair race with her father down the nursing home hallway, a funny discussion on the possibility of getting him medical marijuana and reading poetry together.

"There are no regrets," she said.
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