CAREGIVER IS A funny word because it means almost nothing to the people that it’s meant to describe.
Everybody else knows what it means — pretty much, more-or-less — but to most of the people that are actually giving care, it means somebody else, like people who get paid to do the hardest work there is, whether that’s in folks’ homes, in facilities or wherever.
Sometimes it can even mean “what my mother did” or “what my sister is doing” or whomever wherever, but it almost never means “me.”
Because “I” am just the daughter, the grandson, the wife, the husband, the cousin, the niece or (yes, I’ve seen this) the ex-spouse. Or any combination thereof.
And I’m just doing what I want to do/need to do/should do/am supposed to do/have to do because of love/loyalty/duty/necessity or default because there isn’t anyone else who can.
So, it’s “me,” and I’m taking care of someone who needs to be taken care of. It’s what I “do,” not who I am.
Here (again) is my operative definition of a caregiver: A caregiver is someone who is taking care of someone who needs to be taken care of, whether they (or you) like it or not.
Maybe you, caregiver, are honored to be able to do what you’re doing. Maybe you’re not.
Maybe you do what you do out of love. Maybe you don’t.
Maybe you’re just one of those magical people who are natural caregivers and can give, give and give and find joy and fulfillment in the moment-to-moment acts of kindness and generosity that fill every day, while keeping several thousand balls in the air simultaneously in a never-ending performance of juggling 36 hours through a 24-hour day.
Maybe you’re not.
But those of us who do it, or have done it, know what’s true: It started out being “what we do,” then, somehow, it gradually became “who we are.”
It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s 24-7/365 or just helping with this and that, now and then.
It changes you; maybe for the better, maybe not, but change you, it will.
It already has.
Maybe it changed your life, your own family, your job, your habits or even where you live.
Maybe you’re doing things that you thought you’d never do, or things that you thought you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do.
And, maybe, this is all you can see for as far as you can see.
It changes you.
So, on we go, day after inevitable day, not being “caregivers.” No, that’s somebody else.
No, it isn’t.
And here’s something else that is almost universal for all of us who aren’t caregivers: There is almost no such thing as help.
Here’s what we know: There is nothing and nobody who could do it as well, as gently, as lovingly, as skillfully, as patiently, as correctly, as unselfishly or as consistently as we can.
Just us, so on we go, because going on is all there is.
OK, I get it, but what if there were help for those of us who aren’t caregivers?
I didn’t say “miracles,” I said “help.”
What then? Would you take it?
I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking, “Hmpf. Depends on what ‘help’ is.”
You’re right; me, too. And what’s help to you might not be help to me. Fair enough.
But would you try it?
I know you don’t have time, but if this is all you can see for as far as you can see, would you try?
Then try this:
If you live in the general vicinity of Port Angeles or Sequim, call Fran Koski at 360-417-8549 (800-801-0070).
If you’re in or around the West End, call Susie Brandelius at 360-374-9496 (888-571-6559).
If you’re anywhere in east Jefferson County, call Jan Svien at 360-344-3013 (800-801-0050).
When you make that call, say “caregiver” or “caregiving” or something like that — they’ll get it — and see where it goes.
They can’t sell you anything because they don’t have anything to sell, and it’s not like you’ll be obligated to do anything.
You can always hang up or walk away and go back to not being a caregiver.
You have nothing to lose, except a few minutes that you can’t afford, and I know that as well as you do, but what if?
Maybe. If it’s all you can see for as far as you can see. Maybe.
And as long as we’re talking about miracles (because, we are), try this: What if you’re alone?
Maybe you used to not be a caregiver, maybe not.
Maybe you have a little money, but not a lot.
And maybe you need a little help to get through the day in one piece, metaphorically speaking.
Well, if you’re 55 or older, there might be some help out there for you. Maybe?
OK, call Renee Worthey or Shay Kaushagen at 360-417-8559 (800-801-0070) and just talk it over.
I think it was Bob Dylan who said, “… when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.”
If it’s all you can see for as far as you can see, maybe.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].