When it starts, you may not even know you are doing it. It begins as simply attending a doctor’s office visit with your loved one, or assisting with the confusing array of medications on the kitchen counter. It may not even be medically oriented but rather as innocuous as helping keep the household bills straight or the refrigerator stocked. You probably don’t recognize it but you have just begun the first steps on the journey of caregiving.

For some the journey is short and the path is straight. For others, the journey is more convoluted and may take on the characteristic of a brutal marathon, with many hills, blind curves, and unexpected descents. The pace can also be grueling, vacillating between blisteringly fast medical changes and excruciatingly slow periods of uncertainty.

The dynamics of such a journey, both personally experienced and yet shared with your loved one and family members, can take an emotional toll. There can be great joy and satisfaction felt in being able to help someone whom you care deeply about. Yet, there may also be resentment for the impact and toll that caregiving can exact on your life. These feelings may be mixed with guilt for feeling resentful. In truth, such emotions are often normal companions of the caregiving journey.

One significant key to maximizing the journey is connecting to the resources needed. Those resources may be tangible things like medical equipment or home modifications. Some resources may be less tangible services such as legal assistance, financial guidance, or advice about how to obtain care and assistance.

One such intangible resource which is often overlooked is self-care for the caregiver. For some, it may seem like a guilty indulgence but in reality the care of the caregiver is the also the care of your loved one. True, your loved one needs support and help but you cannot offer to quench that need if your physical or emotional well has run dry. Take time to tend to your own needs and understand that you are, in turn, caring indirectly for the needs of your loved one.

Thankfully our community has many resources to help meet caregiver’s needs, including options to help a loved one stay at home, find a more suitable living arrangement, or help you find a support group of peers who are on a similar journey.

Ask for help, seek assistance, and, most importantly, care for yourself. After all, you have to have the “care” before you can be the “giver” of it.

--Cooper L., caregiver