Post holiday season, contemplating the journey ahead as a caregiver

The holiday season has come and gone, and you have suddenly found that that the world as you knew it just a few weeks ago is somehow different.

Spending time with aging loved ones often reveals changes in their health that you may not want to see. After all, planning to care for a loved one was probably not something you had given much thought to in the past.

There is a sense of dread about what may be coming next and selfishly at times you may wonder how you're going to be able to fit this in amidst everything else you had going on in your already over-scheduled life.

How can there be any more of you left to give? As a recovering family caregiver myself I often think back to the book "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein with fondness and a new sense of understanding. There are days when you feel you have so much to give your aging loved one and everyone around you and then there are other days you are truly a stump in the ground and you can really only be a place for someone to sit and stay with for a while. All of these versions of you are normal and to be expected as you walk down the road as "caregiver."

There will be tender moments you will look back on with fondness.

RELATED: Caregiving is Vulnerable

For me, one such moment was the glimmer in my grandfather's eye when I made him feel extra special by fixing him his favorite ice cream sundae each night. There are moments when you will feel wrought with guilt, like the time I was washing Grandpa's feet because his circulation was so poor. It was nearly midnight and after putting my infant down to sleep for the second time, Grandpa looked at me and said, "this is too much for you" and I said, "yes, Grandpa it is." There was a realness and vulnerability in that moment that we both shared with tears in our eyes and never spoke of again.

There are moments that will stay in your memory like a photograph and you will even remember the tiniest detail.

For me, one of those moments was when my I knew Grandpa had pneumonia and finally after bringing him to see the primary care doctor three days in a row, they agreed, but it was too late. He woke up the next morning in a complete state of confusion chewing on his hearing aid like it was a piece of gum. I shushed my toddler upstairs to hide him from the scene, called 911 and gave the EMTs a full report on his condition and placed his medication list and advance directives on his chest as they wheeled him out the door, only to run upstairs to nurse the baby quickly one last time before heading to the emergency department. Grandpa ultimately died from that bout of pneumonia. All of these moments although unique to me are incredibly common in the caregiving journey.

There are many resources available to you in your community to support you along this road. You can find countless disease-related organizations, government agencies, community-based care options, as well as long-term care solutions out there. You are not alone. If you have found that your loved one is showing any of the warning signs listed below, hop on over to ABC11's Caregivers Corner to get support from the nearly 1,000 other people in our community who are faced with similar challenges. Join us biweekly for our live Caregivers Corner where we answer your questions about caring for a loved one. Get connected to resources and support.

Warning Signs that Your Loved one Needs More Help
1. Forgetfulness
2. A cluttered or disorganized house
3. Poor personal hygiene
4. Trouble getting up from a seated position
5. Poor diet or weight loss

6. Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
7. New dings and dents in the automobile
8. Unpaid or overpaid bills
9. Unexplained bruising
10. Growing healthcare needs

Being a caregiver is such an important role that you have. It is a role that you may take on many times in your life. It is a job that you probably did not ask for but it is a job that is part of being a human being. Former first lady Roselyn Carter once said, "There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver."
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