My years of caregiving have clarified for me that God’s best gift has always been the people He has given to me in my life. I am best defined by the people who love me. My greatest joy has always come from the interactions I have had with those I love the most. Sharing the world’s magnificence with others. Singing, playing, serving, praying together! Yet my loved one’s illness has often imposed a feeling of isolation because we are no longer able to host company, or travel to visit family; many of our friends have moved on – so to speak – unable to embrace our situation or busy with their own health challenges. And, for both my loved one and I, we have lost much of our previous relationship to this illness.
I suppose it is human nature to not fully appreciate things of value until you cannot have them anymore, but for me the fear and isolation imposed by full-time caregiving has made one thing abundantly clear.
It is the sharing of life’s events that really matters.
Having anything without the ability to share it with others makes it – well, less. Less brilliant, less beautiful, less joyful, less happy, less meaningful, less fun, less needed, less important.
The majesty of a brilliant sunset over the Gulf on a breezy Sarasota evening is no less beautiful, but so much less moving if there is not another hand in yours celebrating the same appreciation for the gift of seeing it. Photographing the vivid red that appears in March as the Callistemon Tree bottlebrushes burst open one after the other until the entire tree is ablaze with color feels less important when no one is witnessing this show from Mother Nature with you. It is the companionship of sharing that makes nature’s grandeur so much more splendid to behold. And a warm and inviting pool right outside your door is not nearly as appealing when there is no one there to jump and splash and shriek and play, reveling in the pure joy of the novelty of it. Swapping stories and opinions while reading the local paper, sharing a good meal out or late afternoon cocktails along a sidewalk somewhere on the Key, or laughing with friends or family over a few Euchre games – the easy moments that retirement or vacationing encourages – all requires other people to join you in order to feel the connection and pleasure those times can bring.
I think COVID taught us all to appreciate connection with others more, but it wasn’t until I started reaching out to other caregivers that I began to deal with the loneliness of caregiver isolation. I found other caregivers, whether current or former, “got me” without a lot of explanation or discussion. I felt “heard” and my feelings were validated – even on some really bad days. And we talked easily about other things. The changing of the seasons. Current events around town. Family issues and stories beyond our own situation. We found time to steal away from our chore lists and just breathe together. And even now when it has been a while between connections one or the other will reach out by text and ask, Are You Okay?
We’ve started matching our caregivers with volunteers who have a heart for doing just that! Checking in with other caregivers periodically just to be sure they are doing okay. Our early results have been positive as sometimes the only person who can truly understand is someone who has also been in the same spot! Caregivers give other caregivers hope!
Most things about caregiving are Up for Discussion: How about you? Do you pick up the phone or text someone to chat with periodically when you are feeling especially lonely or isolated? How do you stay connected? Feel free to share your ideas or comments below!
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