Care Partners Resource

Care partners tour of duty

Becoming a care partner is similar to enlisting in the military. Both are a call to duty and similarly neither enlistee has any idea what their enlistment will require of them. However there are some striking differences as well. One clear difference is that before agreeing to enlist in military service a person usually takes time to weigh the pros and cons. The decision to enlist as a care partner or caregiver is often done with no time for thought. Other differences are;

  • no defined term for your tour of duty
  • you are not assigned to your position based on your occupational specialty
  •  there is no plan in place to move up the ranks
  •  and the biggest difference is usually this duty comes with no financial or medical benefits

My tour began with a phone call late one evening in July, 2001.  I answered the phone and heard my oldest brother saying words that I could not comprehend, “Mom is in the hospital” “She had a bad stroke.” The rest of the night was a blur, calls to my son telling him the news, to the airlines to catch a flight to LA, packing and then heading to the airport. All I knew was my mom’s brain was under attack and she needed me.

In my mind the decision to enlist had been made when I answered the phone. It was my duty to join the ranks and make sure Mom got back on her feet.  I don’t recall knowing who the enemy was: What is a stroke? How long my tour of duty would last: What is the recovery period?  I had no idea what a care partner or care giver was and yet unknowingly I had already enlisted to become one.

Once I arrived at the hospital basic training began immediately. The meetings with family, the doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers all began. It became clear to me that I needed to advance up the ranks quickly and take on a more active leadership role.  Days later when the bleeding stopped and mom was stabilized the true test of my enlistment became clear. Her life was never going to be the same and neither would mine.

The early stages of care partnering are foggy. I questioned what I had gotten myself into but it was too late to turn back now. I wonder how many young men and women who take the oath to serve our country feel the same overwhelming fear. My enlistment came with duties that I was not sure I could carry out as well as an assignment away from my family and home.

As time went on we celebrated battles that were won and  found new determination to forge ahead when any ground was lost. Mom and I  continued this strategy until my enlistment ended one day short of eight years when mom decided it was time to surrender and she quietly took her final breath while I sat by her side.

I realize that what I saw and dealt with during my tour of duty is different from what our military personnel must endure and in no way compares to what they must see on a battle field. But I too am left with the wounds from combat against the effects of a “brain attack” that took my mom’s independence.  Most family care partners and caregivers like me are left with both mental and physical scares from our time of service.

I have begun my journey back into the “civilian population” and I am reaching out to other care partners and care givers through my website www.carepartnersresouce.com.  My hope is to heal my battle scares by teaching others the successful strategies I learned during my tour of duty. 

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Forgive your trespasses: You are a care partner not a Saint

As a care partner it is easy to get wrapped up in the idea that you have to be perfect, a saint if you will. We are trying to be all things to all people and lest not forget those around us reminding us we are doing something most people could not or would not ever do. For this reason it is easy to get caught up in the idea that we should not experience human frustrations or emotions.

There can become a point when those frustrations can be taken too far and in those cases I urge a caregiver to reach out and seek help. This article is about trespasses that cause mostly harm to the caregiver not our loved one. Moments of shortness of patience, a harsh word or even a selfish thought that we carry deep in our soul reminding us we are not perfect.

I began my journey for sainthood long before I became a care partner. From an early age it was important for me to be the perfect daughter, the best wife and of course the most patient and loving mom.  So when my mother survived her stroke and I made the decision to become her live in caregiver I had the same expectation, PERFECTION.

One might think that it would be logical to allow myself a little slack since my career had been in the mortgage industry not the medical profession and mother needed constant care because of the effects from her stroke or the fact that I had been out of my parent’s home for 26 years and moving home was a huge adjustment. But care giving leaves no time for slack, too much to learn, too much to do and too many opportunities to be less than perfect.

I care gave and care partnered my mother for 8 years and during that time and the four months since her Lori and Momdeath I am bothered by my own trespasses. The times my patience ran out and I spoke to her in a less than loving voice or when I would get busy doing things around the house and forget to make sure she was fed on time. My biggest regrets are the times I would cut her off when she was trying to tell me something. My mom was unable to speak in sentences after her stroke so we spent a lot of time figuring out what she was trying to say. She said “do do do” thinking she was saying words. During the first few months following her stroke we would spend up to 45 minutes playing 500 questions  only to discover she wanted a piece of lint picked up off the floor.  After a while it all became too much and I began cutting her short.  I would say “okay Mom is there pain, are you hungry?  Okay forget it, we’ll figure it out later, here just watch T.V.”  I think of how difficult it must have been for her going from the matriarch of our family where everything she said was heard with respect to being cut short when she was just trying to make small talk. I feel angry at myself for my lack of patience. I wish that I had been able to settle into my role as a care partner as gracefully as mom was able to adjust to her role as a stroke survivor.

My trespasses as a caregiver were secrets I had carried silently deep inside fearing judgment.  I am telling my secrets in the hope that other care partners and caregivers will see that they are not alone. We are humans not saints and as such we are subject to moments of stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.  Acknowledge your limits, ask for help and take a moment to breath. You will be a better care partner by loving yourself without judgment, guilt benefits no one so forgive your trespasses and move forward.

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Care Partners Resource