You Have to be TOUGH to be a Caregiver

Being a Caregiver is ToughOne of my favorite things about speaking at caregiving conferences is hearing other people’s stories. Last fall I met Hannah, a wiry little woman who appeared to be in her late 70’s. She came up to me on a break and said, “I want to tell you my story.”

Hannah’s husband has dementia, and she has been taking care of him and their small farm for several years. Earlier in the week, a storm had toppled an enormous pecan tree on their property.

She said, “It blocked the path to my chickens, so I went out to the shop and got the chainsaw. It took me all afternoon, but I finally cut a chunk out of the trunk large enough for me to walk through.”

As I was trying to visualize this tiny little older woman wielding a chainsaw, she continued her story. She said, “My husband sat on the back steps watching me the whole time. When I finally finished and walked back up to the house, he shook his head in wonder and said, “Boy! It sure was a lucky thing that I wasn’t out here when that tree fell!”

Hannah said, “Oh, Honey, if that tree had fallen on you, I would have gone into the house and poured myself a glass of wine. Then I would have called 911.”

Hannah’s husband continued looking at the tree trunk thoughtfully, and said, “Yep. That sure was a lucky thing.”

Hannah called her best friend, who is also a caregiver, and shared the story. Her friend laughed and said, “If that tree had landed on him, I suspect you would have downed that first glass of wine, and then you would have gone out to check on him. If he’d still been twitching, you would have gone back in and poured another glass!”

If you passed Hannah on the street, you would never suspect that she had the physical strength to wield a chainsaw. And if you hadn’t ever cared for someone who has a cognitive disorder, you wouldn’t know how mentally and emotionally tough you have to become to deal with the daily frustrations of caring for someone who no longer has the mental capacity to function in the world without help.

You have to be tough to be a caregiver. Being able to find the humor in challenging situations helps relieve stress, and having someone to share your stories with can help you keep your chin above water on days when it’s hard to stay afloat.

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