But How? We All Need a Witness to Tell


But How? We All Need a Witness to Tell

I am lucky enough to often be interviewed by reporters about the caregiving experience. During the interview, the reporters will ask about my caregiving story.

When asked, I say, "I help my parents." I am used to sharing this simple statement and receiving acknowledgement and understanding.

I recently shared that answer with a reporter who pressed me: "But how," she asked, "how do help them?"

The thought that popped into my head was "I help them by keeping them alive." I didn't share that statement because that would not have made sense to her. I stammered and hemmed and hawed until I finally landed on some explanation which actually escapes me right now.

As I write this out, I realize that I often say, "I help my parents", to another family caregiver. In our chat room, when a new member joins us, we never respond with "But how?" after the family caregiver shares that they help or care for a family member. We all nod in virtual agreement as we connect to support another. We don't need to know the "how" because we're living it.

After the most recent exchange with the reporter, I shared my experience with a niece who helps my parents by making sure she visits them regularly. I explained that I always say "help" rather than "care for" because, while I help them, I don't provide hands-on care unless in an emergency, like when my mom falls or my dad feels unwell. I feel it's very important to share that my experience is different that someone who does provide regular and on-going hands-on care.

As I shared my frustration with my niece that I felt I had to defend how I help my parents, my niece joined my frustration. "Oh, my gosh," she said, "you do so much for them! They are doing okay right now because of how much you do for them!"

Certainly, being present for them to help minimize the impact of the medical crises is critical. More importantly, my niece shared, my parents receive daily emotional support and encouragement. I keep them company. I do make it a priority to be with them and enjoy time with them. I also do what I can to help them through their heartache over my Sibling. (Read The Wedding.)

After my conversation with my niece, I decided that we all deserve a witness who sees what we do. We're so close to what we do that we need a witness who sees the difference we make and reminds us of that difference.

How about for you? How do you explain how you help and care for your family member?


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This is a good and accurate distinction, Denise. Depending on the condition of one’s parents the difference between helping and caring makes a lot of sense. For years before my mother’s dementia had advanced, I helped her with many daily living tasks such as grocery shopping and bills. As time went on I basically ended up where I am today, caring for her every need. Whether helping or caring for a loved one, each is equally important depending on the state of mental and physical health of the loved one.