Acknowledging the Bravest Among Us

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Dr. James D. Huysman

Caregiving / / July 06, 2016


I recently received a question from a private caregiver, on my Caregiver Connections Facebook page.  I answered her, but realize the need to say more.  She raised an important topic that deserves more than 3 sentences. Thanks for starting the dialogue, Linda!

Here is her question: Any words of wisdom? I'm a private caregiver. I LOVE what I do. My "problem" is that I tend to get attached to my clients. During the death process of my last client, I feel like I turned off my emotions so as to cope. Now I feel like I can't turn them back on. ANY suggestions will be appreciated.

I’ve talked a lot about compassion fatigue and burnout of family caregivers and “professional” caregivers.  By “professional” caregivers I was meaning those who are the frontlines in our healthcare system - doctors, nurses, social workers, case managers and the like. Private caregivers were lumped in there with the professionals, but I must say that I was remiss in not acknowledging, until now, the extraordinary role that private caregivers and hospice workers play in long term and managed home care.

Giving care is very much about connecting and not only building a relationship with their care recipient, but other family members as well. In many cases this caregiver becomes a trusted part of the family dynamic.  The sense of “being a part of” can offer emotional support to the private caregiver, once taken into the family fold.  So it is not surprising that the private caregiver with no blood ties can get caught up in the emotional goulash that accompanies an end of life scenario.

It is said that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime.  A private caregiver encompasses all three, establishing a sacred bond that fosters responsibility and compassion.

In a long term situation, the lines between what you do and who you are can get easily blurred.

Without active boundary setting and self care the private caregiver can inadvertently set themselves up for an emotional bottom.

The closer you get to the inevitable, the more you need to prepare and take care of your feelings.  If you have not stayed connected, reconnect with the friends and activities in your life that may have lapsed.  Know that you have done a great service to your caree and their family.  Once your caree passes, everything will change.  Your job is over, not your life. You’re services are no longer required. Sadly, even the most grateful family may be unconsciously dismissive of your feelings.

You knew that it would end.  Your grief and sense of loss is no less; the void in your life no less real.  A caregiver support group may help you get back into balance so that you can continue your sacred work.

The reality of being in acceptance and in touch with your feelings throughout the caregiving process will help you navigate and move through them to resolution when the time comes.  Detachment is mindfully self caring, crucial to your wellbeing by providing a necessary emotional boundary. Transformation is unavoidable. You cannot help but be changed. 

I am in awe of the private caregivers and hospice workers that grace us with their compassion. You are truly the best of humanity.  Thank you!  

Categories: Caregiving, Newsletter
About The Author
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James D “Dr. Jamie” Huysman, PsyD, LCSW is well-known for his work fiercely advocating on behalf of family and professional caregivers. From running a national caregiver support foundation, contributing to the AARP Foundation/NASW’s collective “New Guidelines for Caregivers of Older Adults” and co-authoring “Take Your Oxygen First”, to his expert videos on Caregiver Connections for UHC TV, he is a champion of behavioral health and a patient-centered medical culture that is prepared to meet the needs of those they serve.  A popular speaker, he works as VP of Provider Relations and Government Affairs for WellMed Medical Management.

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