Sharing our feelings with friends can change the nature of our caregiving experience. We are happier and healthier when we reveal and celebrate our joy and sorrow with those we care about.
As a caregiver, it’s easy to feel that you’re too busy to continue social relationships. But no matter how full your day, it’s important that you don’t live in solitude. The most effective caregivers make time to share their joys and sorrows with others.
The truth is that healthcare and insurance systems are too complex to tackle alone. The emotional and physical needs of other family members are so time consuming, and the demands of our jobs so enormous, that in most cases the only way caregivers can maintain their quality of life is to be open about their situation and accept help.
Try it. Choose a friend or family member and talk about your caregiving life. Keep trying until you find the right person. When someone’s compassion and ability to listen helps to lift your spirits and allow you to once again enjoy other parts of your life, you’ll know you have found a true friend.
“There are four of us, all women who have been friends for decades. We’ve always gone to dinner, yakked on the phone for hours, taken care of each other without reservations. It’s the kind of friendship where you can always tell the truth or just sit and not talk (like that ever happened!). We never worried about judgments or embarrassment or anyone telling our secrets.
One day Sheila showed up at my house wheeling in a luggage carrier with a cardboard box. She was furious, really burning mad. She said, ‘Here, take this, we cooked enough food for a week. Unfortunately, we also drank wine while we cooked, so we’re not sure what this stuff tastes like’. None of us knew what else to do at this point.
She got louder and louder until she was literally yelling at me. ‘You know, you don’t HAVE to do this ALONE. You think you’re superhuman, but the truth is you look like hell, you have no sense of humor left, have no time for us, and you still won’t talk to us or let us help. When did you become a moron? When did we become untrustworthy? WHAT IS YOUR DAMN PROBLEM?’
By that time I was crying. Then mom shouted, ‘The TV is too loud! I can hear them yelling all the way in here!’ and we both started laughing. All I could do was hug her and say, ‘I love you.’”
My father was in a nursing home and I had sole responsibility for him. I lived more than 30 miles from the home and worked 10-hour days. He was physically failing, but still had all his mental capacity. He looked forward to the evenings that I visited so I tried to go on the same nights during the week and to not skip a visit.
One night the combined stresses of caregiving and career finally got to me and I had an emotional meltdown. I just couldn’t visit him and I was wracked with guilt. My brother and sister lived in other parts of the country so I was his only visitor. My best friend offered, ‘I’ll go see him for you.’ She had never even met him but that didn’t concern her. She saw that we both needed help and she stepped in. She went that time and once again when I had the flu.
My father enjoyed having a new visitor and I experienced another dimension to what friendship means. His last years were a very difficult time for him and for me, but my friend’s capacity for kindness made me feel less alone.
Ultimately, I shared my feelings with other friends. That was a turning point for me. I’m still a very private person, but whenever I don’t want to be bothered getting involved in someone’s problems, I remember how much her being there meant to me and my father, and I reconsider offering help.”