UP FOR DISCUSSION … After a full week of interacting with new caregivers, seasoned caregivers, and former caregivers all at different stages in their life journey, I came across this wisdom that just may sum up what I think I saw in talking with all of them! Is the real secret to successful caregiving in our bones?

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Credited to one of my favorite entertainers, Reba McEntire, this well-known quote actually has its origins in a speech given back in 1908 entitled Moral Anatomy.  And while I am sure that the study of Osteology goes far beyond these three bones, I am struck by how true this wisdom might be … especially for caregivers!  I’d like to take a look at each bone in the context of this past week as I may have witnessed every one of these examples being modeled in real life in a relatively short amount of time.

To me the wishbone has everything to do with HOPE.  As I endeavor to take life just one day at a time, I find that I do better if I allow myself to dream just a little bit as well.  What do I aspire to – both now, and when in the future I have more time to chase something new, worthwhile, and meaningful?  Interestingly, I am reading a book that challenges me to name my deepest desires and suggests that it is actually an exercise in discernment.  And in talking to former caregivers this week who have ended their caregiving journey and have re-building their lives ahead of them, I realize that it is true.  It is more than “well, what comes next”, but rather a focused evaluation of options, passions, purpose, and meaning.  We caregivers have our days mapped out for us and our purpose is clear … reacquainting ourselves with life outside of caregiving might be a little less stressful if we are harboring some deep desires not now possible.

I don’t believe we become full advocates for our loved ones until we learn to build a strong backbone and exercise it often when managing the care of another.  By definition our role in other people’s lives change when we become a dedicated caregiver, and it requires those around us to look at us differently and adjust their own expectations.  In several conversations with caregivers this week I realize that it takes great COURAGE to speak up and advocate for what is best … sometimes taking a position that is counter to accepted practices, prior interactions, and even relationship norms.  For me building and then using that backbone has everything to do with personal belief in the best course of action, insistence in putting it into place, and ultimately finding the resilience to see it through even if it is at the protest of others.  This one is tough and can require great strength – but so necessary for the wellbeing of our loved ones.

Finally, the funny bone! Ah, yes, laughter.  There is nothing like a good belly laugh to get those endorphins flowing.  And in an emotionally charged conversation where the stress level is high, the decisions difficult and painful, and the outcomes uncertain the ability to find a way not to take ourselves as the decision makers too seriously may be all we can do.  But what a relief to laugh at it all and realize that we have so little control over any of it.  And several of my encounters with other caregivers this week punctuated that truth with the amount of laughter, sharing, enthusiasm, joy, and connection I witnessed over and over.  Whether just beginning the journey, well into it, or at a crossroads to moving beyond the demands of caregiving, we can bring hope, courage, and PERSPECTIVE to each other in the sharing.

To paraphrase a good friend of mine, “Let’s keep the conversation going!”  Caregivers give other caregivers hope.  We find our own courage in the experiences shared by others who have faced similar challenges.  And there is nothing more life-affirming than a group of grieving, stressed, brave, and determined caregivers turning it all over to God and dissolving into full-out laughter over the total vulnerability and absurdity of the choices and outcomes at hand.  It is so good to have company on this journey.  Strong bones to walk with along this pathway called life!


UP FOR DISCUSSION:  As a caregiver, do you find ways to laugh?  How do you find courage and marshal your strength to keep going?  Do you allow yourself to dream about better days?  What are your thoughts about these “bones”?  Please share your comments below.

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