Kindness and Caregiving
What does kindness have to do with caregiving? Caregiving is a relationship between two people, both with their own feelings, thoughts and needs. Because of the demands of caregiving, a caregiver often loses sight of the relationship, and caregiving becomes a series of tasks to be accomplished, boxes to be checked on a to-do list. Unlike other relationships in our lives, the relationship between a caregiver and their loved one often lacks reciprocity. A caregiver has the experience of giving, giving, giving, doing, doing, doing without acknowledgement or thanks. Where does kindness come in?
Caregiving demands kindness and radical empathy… Try to imagine that you have dementia, and in your confusion, you don’t know where you are. The familiar house you have lived in for decades appears strange to you, and you want to go home. You are panicked. Only your long-term memory is intact, and you long for your old room in the house you grew up in. As caregivers, our natural impulse is to say, “Honey, we are home. This is our house that we have lived in since 1986! This is not convincing to a person with dementia. If you came upon a stranger who told you they were lost, and wanted to go home, how would you react? Kindly, with reassurance. You might put your arm around them and tell them that you will help them get home or you might say that you will stay with them and not leave them alone. To respond with kindness and patience each time you are asked “When are we going to go home?” as if this is the first time you are hearing this question.
There is nothing worse than feeling alone in a marriage. Because of this lack of reciprocity, a caregiver often feels alone, abandoned by their spouse, even though they know if is the illness that is the cause. As friends, neighbors, and family we are called upon to be kind. Anything we can do alleviate the social isolation of a caregiver is welcome. A card, sending flowers on a birthday or holiday, dropping off a meal, shoveling a walk, picking up some groceries, a gift card for house cleaning, taking the dog for a walk, giving a gift of respite, whether it is you offering to spend time with their loved one with dementia or providing an aid for a few hours these random acts of kindness and 10’s of others, can make a huge difference in the life of a caregiver.
Kindness begets kindness. The kinder you can be to a caregiver, the kinder they will be to their loved one. Caregiving doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Let us create a community of kindness, one act of kindness at a time. If you want more information on how to support the caregivers in your life, contact Allies in Aging 508-808-3263.