Caregiving is a multifaceted experience that cannot be encapsulated in words, it often entails more than just managing the physical needs of the care recipient. Often caregiving means having to attend to emotional, financial and even spiritual needs of the care recipient – all this while juggling one’s own work and family commitments.
Caregiving is not a sprint but a marathon. We need to pace ourselves because care needs vary from condition to condition, and the stage of the illness also plays a large part in the commitment needed. Caregivers need to schedule a routine that includes their own relaxation and personal time – there are times where it can become overwhelming, so it is important to build up a support network and reach out for help when needed. Support can come in the form of informal help, such as siblings, friends and even volunteers, while formal assistance can entail private nursing services or other eldercare services.
Throughout the caregiving journey, the key important factor is communication. Many misunderstandings often happen as a result of poor communication, even when we try to hide our emotions. The reality is one cannot not communicate – for instance, body language or tone of voice might give away one’s true emotions even when they choose to avoid a negative conversation.
Two books that give us some insight into this area are The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman and The 4 Things That Matter the Most by Ira Byock. The 5 Love Languages gives an overview of how to understand our loved ones and ourselves, while The 4 Things That Matter the Most gives us a guide on how to enhance communication and restore relationships.
The 5 Love Languages
Gary Chapman theorises that love is a learned emotion that we learn from our family of origin. He outlines five ways that one can express and experience love: Words of Affirmation, Quality time, Physical touch, Acts of service, Gifts.
For Words of Affirmation, the author suggests using kind and encouraging words, focusing not just on the words but on how the recipient experiences it. Quality time can entail spending one-on-one time, having uninterrupted conversations. Physical touch may involve the use of culturally appropriate touch, like a pat on the shoulder or foot massage for a close loved one. For Acts of service, he suggests giving the recipient the assurance that you are willing to help if need be. The love language of Gifts can include getting presents that are meaningful – it is the thought that counts and not the cost.
The 4 Things that Matter the Most
In The 4 Things That Matter the Most, Ira Byock shares about his experience working with patients at the end-of-life, as well as four statements that can be used as a powerful tool for reconciling and improving relationships. The statements are, “Thank you”, “I’m Sorry”, “I Forgive You” and “I Love You”.
On the topic of “Thank You”, he shares about the importance of expressing and receiving gratitude, even for small things in life. He goes on to share about the notion of forgiveness – “I’m Sorry” and “I Forgive You” – and how forgiveness is as important for the one apologising as it is for the recipient. The author also mentions that there is no perfect moment to let the other person know that you love them, especially at the end of life, where the prognosis may be unpredictable.
A process of communication
One of our caregivers, Mr B, shared about how he initially felt stressed by having to juggle his work commitments, differences with his siblings and caring for their elderly father. However, by understanding their love languages, he was better able to build a relationship with them. For instance, there was a period of time when his father had to go for multiple hospital appointments, and Mr B and his brother would constantly get into arguments. Only after Mr B noticed that his brother’s love language was words of affirmation, was he better able to attend to his brother and encourage and affirm him for his efforts.
Mr B came to this conclusion as he knew that they loved their father and wanted the best for him. Only through this deeper relationship were the brothers better able to understand their father. As he was a man of few words, it was difficult to talk about the four things that matter the most. Instead, they decided that they would have dinner with their father every day, these precious moments that they shared embodied the essences of “Thank you”, “I Forgive You”, “I’m Sorry” and “I Love You”.
More than just caregiving, it’s about caring
Beyond providing care, we also need to ensure our own cup is filled before we can provide. We all want the best for our loved ones, but if our language of care is not perceived the way we intend it to be, it may sometimes lead to a dreaded misunderstanding, especially since the impact of illness does not affect just the patient but also their loved ones.
Instead of making decisions for our ill loved ones, thinking that it will be the best for them, it would be more ideal to make the decision with them, taking into account their voice as well. A good starting point is to return to the purpose and meaning that we derive from caring for them, while letting them find meaning in being cared for.