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Caregiver resents being advised by those who haven’t been there

In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol hears from a reader who writes to blow off steam about people who keep telling them to take care of themselves.

Carol Bradley Bursack updated column sig for online 10-21-19.jpg
Carold Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
The Forum

Dear Carol: I care for my husband who developed early-onset Alzheimer’s at 57. Eventually, I’ll need to place him in memory care, but we’re not ready for that yet. I’m just writing to blow off steam about people who keep telling me to take care of myself.

I know they mean well, but when their version of self-care means taking a cruise or even an exotic trip, I want to scream. I’m here to tell them (again) that for many caregivers, options for “self-care” are few and rarely include long vacations. People who haven’t done this need to stop advising people in the trenches. We resent it. — WJ.

Dear WJ: You’re a dedicated caregiver who speaks for many. I believe that you and other caregivers understand that casual friends do mean well, but this is one of many situations in life where good intentions can backfire.

A related situation is comforting people who grieve. Some people want company, while others want time alone to process their emotions. How much of either is where those who love the grieving person are left guessing, so it’s human nature to project what they believe they’d want onto others.

I mention grieving because as caregivers, we’ve seen the health of people we love deteriorate to the point where they can no longer care for themselves. Worse, we know that it will only get worse. We’ve willingly stepped in to help, but we also join them in grieving their losses.

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Just as some who grieve wish for company, some caregivers would love to have friends visit. Others find that having people over just adds to the stress of their already overloaded lives. This simply underscores how different we all are.

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How’s this, WJ? A couple of your friends get together and one of them offers to sit with your husband while the other takes you out for dinner. Does that appeal to you — or not?
Some caregivers would be deeply grateful, but for others, even that well-meant idea would create stress. See what I mean? Good friends will try to suggest something realistic if they can but will not be offended if you decline.

Remember, too, that many people say, “Take care of yourself” in the same way others may say, “Have a good day!” They wish you well, but aren’t in a position to provide meaningful assistance. Some days this will annoy you more than others, but try to let it roll off. They are just trying to be nice.

Something that may be manageable for you would be to share a movie with your husband and then after seeing him off to bed, you enjoy a long bath followed by time with a book or a chat with a friend. The idea is to consider small things that would give you pleasure and try to indulge in those activities as often as possible. This approach is more likely to succeed than only thinking of self-care as one grand gesture.

Sending a caregiver hug.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

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