Taking Care of the Caretaker
Family caregiving, unlike professional caregiving, may just be one of the most challenging and most
complicated roles a family member can take on.
The experience of caring for an unwell family member is a chronic stressor causing negative biological,
psychological and social consequences, to those who give so much.
Without effective support for the caregiver, even the strongest will wane. But what, specifically, are
those consequences? How can they be avoided? How does one find support to counter them?
I, operating in the role of primary caretaker myself, was nudged to do a little informal research, as I
found myself entering what I called, Phase II, of my evolving role as, “It.”
Phase I was the initial shock and chaos of realizing my loved one has a chronic disease that I could not
have caused, controlled or cured, although, accepting that notion took a good minute. I was finding
ways to manage my own life while calling doctors, finding appropriate treatments, battling insurance
companies, finding enough money to pay the medical bills when insurance denied, all while not ever
looking like it was all too much. Family and friends rallied hard for me; for us; calling, visiting, cooking,
praying, crying and offering hope. But, as time passed, and those same friends and family members
reached out, their hopeful gestures of support carried the weight expectation; expecting to hear that all
was well and that against all odds, the disease would soon be cured. But my response was the same,
“we’re hangin’ in there but she’s still struggling.” The disease was progressing and despite anyone’s
super hero acts of love to save my baby, the suffering that I was forced to stand by and watch,
continued. Each call I took was met with, “we’re not quite there yet but we’re hopeful.” And over time,
the calls thinned out, the visits were less frequent and when I was asked the same dreaded question,
“how’s it going; everything good now?” I learned to fake it; to tell ’em what they wanted to hear. Over
time, Phase II, which already bore the burdens of Phase I, had the added dimension of aloneness, mask-
Enter Phase III…guilt. Ah, guilt! Guilt! Guilty feelings, for everything, enveloped me. Guilt that I could
not control it, could not cure it, could not have the life I once had because of it, could not stop the
resentments and could not stop me feeling a little angry at the situation; at her. Yes, we know it’s a
disease, we get that, but we still resent that it has caused us physiological, psychological, physical,
occupational, social, financial and relational consequences, and the stress is unrelenting and seemingly
infinite. Yet, we do our best to remain hopeful.
The more I Googled, Bing’d and Yahooed, the more I found that unless I was caring for an aging parent, I
was going to have to be pretty resourceful in my search for finding like-minded people with similar
struggles. If your predicament is similar, maybe some of the things I’ve learned to do for myself may
Allow me to share them with you:
· Share with those you trust that you are a caretaker and are struggling to take care of yourself in
· Don’t pretend, with those you trust, that everything is like it used to be; grieve the loss of your
· Don’t attempt to be ‘super-caregiver’
· Share your difficulties with the person you are caring for; it will alleviate their guilt and yours
· Do not isolate
· Do not neglect your own physical, social or emotional health
· Get support!
· Get therapy!
· There are support groups for caregivers!
o And if you are caring for someone in active addiction, visit a Nar-Anon, Al-Anon or CODA
There is Hope!
You are Not Alone!
All is Well!