Guest Columnists

Learning to Care for Loved Ones

by Bill Dodds

Family caregivers don’t solely need hands-on training. They need “hearts-on” training, too.

It becomes clearer and clearer that love demands action and that it calls for repeated effort and self-sacrifice. At times, it seems that caring for another person is akin to going to boot camp.

With that in mind, there is a lot to consider if you’re caring for a loved one. Sometimes you may find yourself asking, “Why is this so hard for me to do?”

Unique Circumstances

Though each family’s circumstance and situation are unique, caregiving is hard for every caregiver, perhaps not all the time, but everyone experiences difficulties.

That is true whether your duties have increased over time or whether they have suddenly landed on top of you in a heap.

No caregiver feels like an expert. None is free from caregiver guilt. Every caregiver wants to be better at it. Every caregiver feels as if they’re not doing enough, or they’re not doing it right, or feels as if they don’t know what they’re doing at all.

Caregiving often means learning about things you never wanted to know about, such as a disease, an injury, about declining health, dementia, hospice and death.

Wish for Ignorance

Others may see you as an “expert” on dialysis or Parkinson’s disease or heart surgery or whatever disease your loved one is dealing with. You wish you were blissfully ignorant.

It can take practice to balance getting information about your loved one’s health issues without becoming almost obsessed with worst-case scenarios. It can take patience when others who know nothing about the situation you are dealing with strongly offer their own opinions or snake-oil remedies.

A caregiver’s life can seem filled with highs and lows. You’ll experience the joy of your loved one’s good test report, new skill or return home after a hospital stay.

But you will also experience the fear and sadness when test reports bring bad news, when a lifelong ability is lost, when there’s a need to take the person you care for back to the hospital or move him or her to a nursing home.

Selfishness vs. Self-Care

There is a difference between selfishness and self-care. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. Taking a break on a regular basis makes you a better caregiver. Taking care of yourself helps you to be the caregiver you really want to be.

Caregiving can mean focusing on the present, concentrating on what needs to be done today, not thinking about tomorrow.

You have to pause and appreciate small things, such as the fact that your loved one still recognizes you, knows your name, that you can hold hands or that the new medicine seems to be working.

During all of the highs and lows, hang on to your faith. It is a gift from God that you can choose to use even when God seems distant, even when you can’t understand why God doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want and especially why there is no miracle, no cure.[hr] Bill Dodds and his late wife, Monica, were the founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver ( 

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