Caregiving can be a very lonely place to find yourself. If the one you care for has limited mobility, it’s hard to get out and run errands or even just escape your all-too-familiar environment. If communication is also impaired or challenging because of hearing deficits or even dementia, you might feel isolated and overwhelmed. Dr. Gary Chapman proposes that there are five love languages, expressions that we all need to make us feel safe, appreciated, and loved. One of these is words of affirmation. When you are providing care for a loved one, there are words you need to hear, verbal expressions that will feed your soul and refuel your energy levels. These can come from the loved one you care for, other family members or even friends. But if your primary love language is words of affirmation, you need to receive these regularly from those around you.
People often don’t even know where to begin when searching for the right words, to offer hope and encouragement that will lift you up and carry you through difficult days. Words seem empty when an observer perceives the impossible burden of caring for an aging parent, spouse or loved one. As the caregiver, you must help other family members and friends understand what you need, and how they can offer encouragement. Make a list and share from it when someone offers to help. Don’t be shy to let others know that even Superwoman (or man) needs refuge and support from time to time!
Offers of help, invitations to get together for lunch or coffee, even merely asking how you are doing and then being still and listening to your honest answer are all ways to support and strengthen you when you are struggling to stay afloat. An offer to pick up groceries should be thanked with a list that is ready and waiting. When someone tells you that you are doing a great job, don’t downplay your own efforts. Here’s a great list of things to say from caregiving.com. For those caring for someone in the hospital or with a traumatic injury, brainline.org gives additional questions caregivers need to hear.
All family caregivers know that at the end of the day there’s so much more we could have done, but you are using the wrong measuring stick! Instead, look at everything you DID. Then give yourself some self-love and a pat on the back. You did your best, and that’s enough for today.
When I was with my mother in her last days, she told me almost daily how much she loved me. I will cherish those words forever. They kept me going when I didn’t know what else to do, or how to help, or how long I would be there. Even though I knew I was loved, I still needed to hear those words during long days of waiting, watching, and wondering. Others told me I was doing an excellent job and asked what they could do to help me. Everyone was encouraging, supportive, and caring, but my time with my mother and her words of love carried me from day to day and strengthened me in her final hours.
Chris and I hope you will join our conversation this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about words family caregivers need to hear.