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MAGAZINE / Nov-Dec 2007 / Are You A  Mindful Caregiver?

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Are You A Mindful Caregiver?

By Sherril Bover  
(Page 2 of 2)

Forgiveness

We all carry remembrances from the past. Whether we are caring for parents or a spouse, there is always a history.  Some of that history may be unpleasant, disappointing or even abusive.  But mindful and effective caregivers will work to forgive the past and to focus on today. They realize that to waste their energy and spirit on events that cannot be changed is unhealthy and counter-productive.

FAR better caregivers not only strive to stop judging family members for past behavior, they extend forgiveness to themselves for real or perceived failings and recognize that they, and everyone else, are doing the best they can.

Acceptance

Acceptance does not mean “liking” or “approving” or even “condoning.” Acceptance simply means coming to a serenity with what IS.  None of us likes having a loved one with a dementing disease, but to constantly fight and deny is to keep ourselves from being compassionate and effective caregivers.

Mindful and FAR better caregivers work to stop fighting events and occurrences over which they have no control.  They take their guidance from these words  . . . Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference (from the Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr).

Realism

In “knowing the difference,” our mindful, FAR better caregivers develop the strength to look reality in the eye.  They don’t waste precious energy wishing things were different.  They don’t dramatize or pretend.  They live with a belief in their own strength and grace. They enjoy a knowing that they are doing the very best for their loved ones and for themselves.

Synthesis

When we are first thrust into the role of caregiver, we naturally resist.  We do not want to believe that our loved one is affected by a debilitating, terminal disease.  We don’t want to take on an added burden. We grieve, often following Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five steps: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  This is natural and normal. We must feel what we feel and know that these feelings are appropriate.

But as we grow into our caregiving roles, we begin to realize that to allow ourselves to languish in one of the first four stages will not serve us on the long dementia journey.  Denial, anger, bargaining and depression only rob us of the mental, spiritual and physical energies we are going to need if we wish to surmount the challenges ahead.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can strengthen or weaken us.  It can be an opportunity for growth or a destructive passage.  It is our own choice: mindfulness in caregiving leads us to assess our attitudes and beliefs, to grow in forgiveness and compassion.  Mindfulness can mean that when we reach the end of our caregiving journey, we emerge as whole people, with mind, body and spirit forged anew by challenges met and surpassed. For me, though, the overarching result of mindful caregiving is that we will know, beyond any doubt, that we have done the very best we could for our loved one with dementia and that is what makes all the difference.

 Sherril Bover is a caregiver coach and educator.  She leads support groups for family caregivers and was caregiver for her mother, Mary, who died in January 2006.  Sherril is co-author and co-presenter of The Alzheimer’s Dialogues, Conversations About Caregiving©.

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