Caregiving can be Tough: Lessons in a Special Kind of Love

My 84-year-old mother doesn’t know what day it is.

So, I bought her a ridiculously big digital clock that displays both the time and date in ginormous lettering. I placed it right next to where to she sits to watch television.

Still, when I ask her what day it is it, she can’t tell me, even when she looks at the clock.

Early dementia has washed away much of who my mom used to be. And it has simultaneously placed me in the role of her primary caregiver. Something I felt neither prepared nor excited to provide.

But caregiving for my mom has been a gift. And it teaches me valuable lessons every single day.

Lessons about how to let go of who she was and embrace who she is, even as that changes from day-to-day. Lessons about how fragile life is and how quickly it goes by.

Lessons about the importance of being mindful, for both her and me — about being as present as possible in this new world, with no judgment, expectations, or fears buzzing through our heads. About simply being in the moment, which isn’t easy.

Caregiving can be tough. But, if you succeed, caregiving becomes pure love.

Giving your time and full attention to a parent, spouse, friend, or neighbor who needs help, whether its briefly or daily, is a lesson in the power of love. You become stronger than you have ever been in those moments, able to assist in ways you didn’t think you had the courage or patience to do.

Caregiving also teaches us how useless the heavy emotion of guilt is.

It’s easy to feel guilt, as a caregiver: that we’re not doing enough, giving enough, or taking care of enough; thinking we could and should do more.

The truth is, we can never do enough.

We can’t change the circumstances that make our loved one require care.

We can’t turn back time on the effects of age or dementia or, for that matter, most degenerative diseases.

And that’s OK. It’s not our job to fix it. It is our place to care. And to love. And to be present.

Let go of the guilt. Let go of the feeling you’re not doing enough.

Instead, open your heart to the loving lessons of understanding and acceptance.

I wish for all caregivers that we may recognize the blessings of giving, that we may allow ourselves guiltless grace, that we may be present, and that we may muster strength as we welcome the lessons of this exceptional kind of love.

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