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Surviving Caregiving
26 December 2017

HCA’s Head of Psychosocial Services shares the secret to lasting the long haul as a caregiver.

by Ms Tan Ching Yee

Have you ever felt like giving up as a caregiver? When one cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, caregiving can become a laborious task.

As a medical social worker in the healthcare sector for the past 22 years, I have personally witnessed the arduous journeys undertaken by many caregivers. One of such interactions remain firmly etched in my mind.

“It has not been easy, you know.”

When I first met Judy*, she had been looking after her mother, Mdm Tan*, a brain cancer patient, for two years. Ever since her father passed away in 2010, she had been by her mother’s side. The cancer was a huge blow to Mdm Tan. She lost the ability to speak and often vented her frustrations on the people around her. Not wanting to burden her siblings who were all married with young children, Judy naturally became Mdm Tan’s main caregiver.

On my first home visit, Judy looked visibly exhausted. The countless visits to the hospitals with her mother for medical appointments, coupled with the other demands of caregiving, had drained her of all energy.

“IT IS NOT A SACRIFICE. FOR ALL THAT MUM HAS DONE FOR ME, THIS IS THE ONLY WAY I KNOW HOW TO REPAY HER WHILE SHE IS STILL ALIVE.”

In our first chat, she shared, “It (the caregiving journey) has not been easy, you know. But no matter how tough it is, I can still go on. I will still keep trying.”

Her look of serenity beneath the tiredness struck me as something rarely seen. Curious, I asked her, “What keeps you going?”

this is the only way I know how to repay her while she is still alive.

Judy replied, “My mother has looked after us (my siblings and I) for so many years and it is only right that I look after her. I’m simply grateful that my mother is still around for me to repay her for all that she has done.”

Touched by her selflessness, I said, “Your commitment is such a noble act of sacrifice.”

Judy quickly corrected me, “It is not a sacrifice. For all that Mum has done for me, this is the only way I know how to repay her while she is still alive.”

Her words carried both strength and commitment, fueled by a deep sense of gratitude. To Judy, being a caregiver was more than meeting the demands of physical needs. It was her way of expressing thankfulness.    

Caregiving can be a lonely task.

A better way to live by

Gratitude goes beyond the two words, “Thank you.” It represents an emotional connection between two people. Oxford Dictionary defines it as, ‘the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.’

To both the receiver and giver, showing gratitude is an acknowledgement of their connection. It deepens the meaning of the relationship between them.

Research has shown that the regular expression of gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness and well-being improvement. I’m sure we can all relate to this in our daily lives and it certainly does not hurt to experience it more often.

Caregiving can be a lonely task. It bears the brunt of expectations and demands, not only from the person who is ill but also people around them – other family members, friends and healthcare professionals.

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE CAN SOOTH A WEARY SOUL.

I am certain that Judy’s mother appreciated her for all that she had done even though she could no longer speak. Also, the siblings’ gratitude towards her were evident and all these helped keep Judy going.

How does one start expressing gratitude to the caregivers in our family? Here are some things we can try as a start:

  • Say ‘Thank you” often.
  • Offer to help during errand-runs.
  • Bring them out for lunch or dinner.
  • Do our part in buying groceries.
  • Tell them that you are always there for them, be it good or bad days.

You never know how your simple gesture will help someone go that extra mile. Go – live the gratitude, spread the attitude.

*Names have been changed for privacy.