The Fix Isn't In


The Fix Isn't In


I spoke with a colleague the other day who wondered how she could best help a non-profit which provides housing for family members while their caree is hospitalized. My colleague, who sits on the board of the non-profit, explained that the Executive Director has added services, like meetings with a chaplain, to support family caregivers but they don't take advantage of the extra services she's offered.

My colleague also shared that some family members, so strapped for cash, must sleep in their car at night.

"We want to help them," my colleague said, "because they are not taking care of themselves. They're not eating right. They're only coming back to the house to fall asleep at night." My colleague focused on the family caregivers' nutrition; "they just don't eat," she said. "We provide meals for them but they just don't come back to get them."

I explained:

  • The family caregivers have a laser focus on their carees during their treatment and care. That's the priority, nothing else matters during that hospitalization. They must spend as much time as possible at the hospital to ensure their carees receive the appropriate and best care. They must be available as much as possible during the hospitalization to advocate for carees who may not be able to advocate for themselves. The time to intervene with a different kind of support for the family caregiver is after they return home, when they can feel isolated and alone.
  • The problem to solve is ensuring low-cost and no-cost housing is available. The non-profit is providing an invaluable service -- housing. That's all they need to provide because that's all family caregivers want during their stay. Let go of adding any others services and make it a priority that no family caregiver sleeps in a car.
  • Because the family caregivers really just want housing, make that housing calm and calming. Add fresh flowers to each room, have diffusers available with essential oils to help the family caregivers sleep better. Have a "hospital pack" with snacks, water and activities to pass the time (like crossword puzzles and adult coloring books and a list of websites which offer comfort, like ours) ready in the morning that the family caregivers bring with them to the hospital.
  • Self-care during caregiving is different. They are taking care of themselves -- they are giving themselves peace of mind that they did everything possible for their carees. At these moments, during a caree's hospitalization, they take care of themselves by being available to their carees. They will spend every moment possible with their caree; the idea of leaving the hospital to travel somewhere for a meal just won't work. The time to intervene to support their nutrition and stress-management techniques is, again, once they return home.

Over the years, I've seen companies make similar mistakes. The staff at companies offering products or services for family caregivers decide they can "fix" the family caregiver. They make a judgment that family caregivers aren't taking care of themselves.

The problem with these two perspectives is that we don't need to be fixed. We are doing our best to take care of ourselves, often by ensuring we can live with ourselves after caregiving ends.

We don't need to be fixed. We need to be understood. We need to be supported -- without judgment -- for where we are right now.

I explain this philosophy to the students in our Certified Caregiving Consultant™ training program. It can be a challenge to get this concept because we so want to take away suffering. Recently, a student in our training program wondered how this would really work, being available to support without the intention of fixing.

I asked the student to share a difficult time in her life. She shared a time during her childhood when her mom wasn't well and her dad was coping with his wife's medical crisis while taking care of his family and working. She shared a memory of standing in the kitchen as a young girl, alone and watching her friends playing outside, as she ironed her dad's shirts.

What if, I asked, someone came into the kitchen and ironed with you?

We want company during our tough times. And, company that understands that sometimes peace of mind feeds our soul in a way a salad just can't.

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As usual you are so right Denise. My thought for your colleague might be an \"optional\" box lunch which along with a \"hospital pack\", could provide the nutrition she is concerned the caregiver is missing. That way the caregiver can eat right there in the room and not worry about leaving for food and missing the microsecond a doctor stops in.