Stage One: Getting Started
When you first become a caregiver for an elderly relative or friend, a party isn’t given in your honor the way it is when expecting a child or getting married. No one sends you flowers to celebrate the gift of love you will be providing. In fact, if your other relatives or friends have anything to say, it may be to insist that the older person is fine and doesn’t need care or that you’d have to be crazy to take on a responsibility like that. If you are caring for your spouse, some family members may be supportive. Others may try to stop you from taking on the caregiver role at what they see as a high risk to you. They don’t understand that you may find the role of caregiver rewarding and fulfilling or that honoring your vows is most important to you.
Caregiving is an important role of which you can be proud, but at the same time it can be stressful. You may not have made a conscious decision to become a caregiver – you may have slipped quietly and unnoticed into the job because you are the spouse and you live with the person who needs care or you are the adult child who lives closest to your elderly parents, the closest child emotionally, or the most responsible one. Perhaps you saw some needs and simply began to fill them, transporting your care receiver to the doctor, helping with bill paying and housework, and leaving extra home-cooked meals in the refrigerator to be heated later.
If you are a caregiver for your spouse, you may be experiencing a role reversal and the grief as well as exhaustion that goes with this, for the person who is now frail may have been the one who used to do the driving, cooked the meals, did the housework, or paid the monthly bills.
If you are an adult child of aging parents, you may also be experiencing role reversal, as you’ve always counted on your parents not only to take care of themselves but to be there for you when you needed advice, comfort, and assistance. You may be part of the “sandwich generation,” working outside your home, caring for children of your own, and finding your weekends filling up with chores such as your parent’s laundry, while your parent insists that he or she can still host holiday get-togethers and doesn’t need any help. Your parent may seem quite hale and hearty when speaking to your brothers and sisters but present a more frail aspect to you, insisting that only you can provide rides to the doctor. You may even hear glowing accounts of wonderful trips taken by your non-caregiver sister while your parent asks you why you and your spouse never have anything interesting to report.
We hope this information for beginning caregivers will help not only those caring for relatives but also persons helping neighbors, friends, members of a faith community and others. Note: if you have been thrust into heavy hands-on care by a stroke or accident, see Stage Two and Stage Three.