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.
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"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
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
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
"There are no regrets," she said.
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