The Aftereffects of Caregiving
Taking on the mantle of caregiver for another human being is an immeasurable, noble commitment. Unfortunately, the chronic stress brought on by being the primary caregiver for someone who is ill isn’t "over when it’s over."
Throughout the length of time that you, as that caregiver, attend to the countless needs of this person you love, you will lose sections of your life that will take years to recover, if they can ever be redeemed at all.
After the loss of this precious loved one, certain side-effects will tend to linger on and on. For instance, research has shown that forty-five percent of "former caregivers" go through mild-to-severe depression for up to two-three years following their loved one’s demise—some even longer.
Sadly, there are many who will never fully recover to once again enjoy a normal social life. This need not be you. Former caregivers must adapt to the inevitable changes one step at a time. It is highly unlikely that they will ever look at life exactly in the same manner after experiencing such a long and emotionally draining campaign.
An overwhelming majority will neglect their own health during the caregiving years, even continuing to disregard it after the duties of caregiving are over. In my case, after my father passed away, the last words I wanted to hear someone say were “health care,” and the last sort of people I wanted to associate myself with were people working in the medical profession. Assuredly, it wasn’t that they were bad people; on the contrary, I had been blessed with many positive connections. But there was no doubt I had had more than my fill of medical talk, especially during the last six months of my father’s life. After Dad’s passing it took about a year and a half before I could bear the ultimate, personal health-care decision: to see a doctor for any reason.
Then there is the problem of finances, or should I say, the lack thereof? Facts show that one-third of caregivers and former caregivers report their income to be at the poverty level. A high percentage of folks have found it necessary to quit their jobs in order to properly execute their vital caregiving roles. Later they resurface in the current world of high unemployment. These people are trying to steady themselves and finally get back on their own two feet, while at the same time living in a world rife with dismay. It’s hard to describe exactly how it feels, but I assure you that it’s like living in a world of disarray and emptiness.
For a decade I was devoted to the cause of caring for my dad. But when that time ended, all of a sudden it was like a floodgate had opened!
This wasn’t like a gentle stream flowing by; no, it was more like shooting the white water rapids of newly acquired freedom! For years and years I could barely get out to go to the supermarket or a pharmacy. Now, suddenly, when my job was done, I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. But the truth of the matter was, I didn’t feel like going anywhere! Throughout the years I had told myself that, when this journey was over, I was going to treat myself to a long over-due vacation, maybe visit some old friends. However, I soon recognized that I didn’t even want to leave my driveway! What I did do, however, was find myself constantly looking for some kind of a replacement. I needed and wanted something or someone else to take care of. For instance, I would search out sick friends, elderly people struggling at the grocery store, wilted plants . . . or even if the cat sneezed I was ready to rush over and hand her a tissue. I am not kidding! No matter the down and oppressed, I was there as "super caregiver" to heal all wounds!
Thankfully, I finally calmed down and got my fix from helping other caregivers to cope.
Besides, that’s what true friends do: help each other in times of need.