From the Pages of a Caregiver’s Journal, by Erika Freiherr
It’s 2021! With this New Year I’ve been considering how many people make resolutions. Do you make New Year Resolutions? If you’ve made a list, are you still on track? Everyone that I know who makes a list seems to break it. In fact most people are not great at following through with the list they vowed to make for the New Year. According to Google, it’s a fact! The US NEWS & WORLD REPORT article states that New Year Resolutions fail about 80% of the time. In fact, and I paraphrase, most resolutions are broken by mid-February.
Good habits and/ or drastically different habits from typical lifestyles are hard to get started and even harder to keep. If you look it up it typically takes 21 to sometimes 66 days for a new habit to become automatic. On December 21, 2018 the New York Post had an article that stated, “according to a study by the University of Scanton, just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s Resolutions”.
The article then goes on to say that resolutions fail due to unrealistic expectations. Many people aim to start and achieve too many goals, like eating differently, budgeting or commencing an exercising regime. I’m sure you know what I am referring to. But the expectations of making so many changes at once and continuing with them is difficult to maintain. As Dr. Carly Moore said, “it’s best to start with smaller changes and add on to the list of changes you wish to make happen in your life; or tackle one difference you want to make at one time”. Dr. Marcelo Campos, a Harvard Medical School Lecturer, said that not only is writing down resolutions more helpful to making a commitment, but as you make these resolutions you should consider the following questions to succeed in reaching your goals:
1. What do you want to change?
2. Is your concrete and measurable?
3. What is your plan?
4. Who can support you towards change?
5. How will you celebrate your victories?
These questions are a great way to consider your goals. However, as a caregiver, or a companion to someone who is dying, the only real question I had to contemplate is “am I strong enough to do this”? In fact from even before the terminal diagnosis, I knew I would be committed, until death. There was no hesitation, or even question of “would I be able to finish the caregiving journey I started”? Many people in society are faced with the choice of becoming a caregiver. As soon as a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, every family and friend contemplates becoming that caregiver. Not everyone is able to become a caregiver; mentally, physically, emotionally and even logistically, it may not be possible. In many cases, the role falls primarily on one person.
Becoming a caregiver is becoming a person’s companion in life as they journey closer to death. You will assist and help them cope to the best of your abilities, while you both are challenged to learn to cope mentally, physically and psychologically in all aspects of dying. Your job will not involve resolving the diagnosis, but rather you will have to resolve problems and situations as they arise. You may be called upon to clean bodily fluids, lift another person, aid in prescription and pain management or even dress a wound, while still maintaining compassion, patience, and understating. You learn to cope and deal with your own emotions and fears, but still have feelings of inadequacy.
It will not be your needs and goals that you will be trying to achieve, but those of someone else, while you adjust to the new situation. It is heart wrenchingly painful to watch some you love struggle to live; seeing a loved one suffer in pain, seeing them lose their energy, their strength, and perhaps even their physique.
Becoming a caregiver, or a companion, is a commitment that must be honoured. Adjustments or changes will happen. There may not always be big changes that are anticipated, but they will be part of the journey and you will learn to overcome all that comes your way. The alternative is never considered. You can’t quit, you continue to persevere because you have a loved one depending on you. If there is a conflict you resolve it by making the necessary adjustments to your schedule or you ask for help. No matter what, you find a workable solution by engaging your creativity and ingenuity in your endeavours. You do not walk away. You don’t quit because you know your love one can’t walk away from the terminal illness and you can’t abandon them, especially as the condition worsens.
I have met and spoken to many caregivers in my life. We’ve shared stories and experiences and have supported one another. I have never met or heard of a caregiver quitting. I also have never heard anyone say they had to take on the role for someone else who found it too difficult. If the caregiver can’t continue, it would be because of their own health issues not because they couldn’t do it anymore.
An end of life companion, whether to a beloved family member or friend, is a learning process. You become skilled and able to take on tasks you never thought possible. It’s a time of learning not only about yourself but about the person dying, making you ponder life while testing your commitments.
In thinking about New Year resolutions, I remember a particular friend, who made anti-resolutions because she knew most people would break their resolutions. She would list things she did not want to happen such as saying she and her first boyfriend, now husband, would break up. They never did and are still together after many decades, in love and in a long-lasting relationship.
I will not share if I have made New Year resolutions, or even anti-resolutions. But I will say that if I did, I would be able to follow through. If I can commit to being a caregiver for someone I love, could I not be able to commit to love myself and follow through on resolutions I hope to achieve?
Wishing you all a Happy New Year and much success and self-love to achieve your personal goals this year!