What are the stages of care giving?
The expectant or anticipatory caregiver. In this stage, an aging relative’s health is deteriorating at such a rate that you anticipate becoming a caregiver –if not the primary caregiver- in the next 12 to 18 months. The most productive way to spend that time is to do as much research as you possibly can, on care giving in general, and learning about the care recipient in particular. The latter involves getting the patient’s financial and legal affairs in order. You may also look into community services, health programs and start installing safety devices around the house, for example bathroom grab bars.
The freshman caregiver. This period comprehends the first 6 to 18 months of care giving. At this point you may be starting to become aware of the 90% of the iceberg that’s hidden below water level, so to speak. This is also the perfect moment to start asking and accepting help, if you haven’t already. Hire extra hands if you can afford it; if not, take any and all help you can get from family, friends, support groups, even the church. Whatever you do though, try to make the care recipient as integral a part of the decision-making process as possible.
The entrenched caregiver. In this phase, you will have been a caregiver for a very long time, maybe even too long to know for certain or even care. If that’s the case, beware; caregiver stress and burnout may be lurking in the shadows. It may be hard to accept, but if a caregiver lets themselves go, how can they be expected to care for someone else? Consider the possibility of delegating your duties or even stepping down as a caregiver altogether, if only for a while, until you’re ready to get back on the saddle again.
The pragmatic caregiver. Even if you manage to survive the entrenched caregiver stage, that doesn’t mean you’re home free yet. You may end up becoming a bitter, jaded veteran of the care giving wars, unsure about your role in life. It is still possible to find meaningful connections in life, and you have to go no farther than your own care recipient for that. Such a prolonged cohabitation may have led you to resent each other; if so, take the opportunity to forgive each other, and enjoy your time together while it lasts.
The transitioning caregiver. There are basically two ways in which a care giving experience nears its end; either you weren’t able to handle the stress –which by the way is something only people who haven’t gone through the same could hold against you-, or the care recipient is getting closer to breathing their last. In either case, there is always life after care giving; in the latter case, you shouldn’t consider your caregiver stint unsuccessful, but also know that you are allowed to grieve openly as well.
The caregiver in loss. Whatever the outcome of care giving is, it will always result in loss; not only the loss of your relative, but also the loss of your role as a care giver. Along the way you may have wished that it was all over, but now there is no denying the fact that it has been your identity for years. Ironically, you may be in need of care now, so don’t be afraid to seek help, whether it is a professional counselor or a support group. Life goes on, but nothing can change the fact that you are and will forever be a caregiver, and that that can actually make you a wiser, better person in general.
Related Read: What is the caregiver burnout?