Her sightless hands felt all the ridges of the clay pot…
my client smiled ever so slightly.
Her sightless eyes looked back at my direction for approval.
We were just talking about how making a bowl or a cup out of clay is a process,
just like recovering from a health crisis.
In this class she was in her element.
Creating and making. Recovering and re-discovering her life skills.
My element too, but today, I was just an observer.
My job today: to take her to class and back home safely.
My client is blind and recovering from a stroke.
A caregiver has many, many roles. Sometimes those roles are more of an extension of WHO we are. Like crafting, pottery, painting and the like are for me. Some of us just struggle through the parts that aren’t really part of our makeup. Like cleaning up vomit without ourselves vomiting… (EEK! I am a bit squeamish about that aspect of my job)
There are moments of caregiving when I feel like an empty pot.
I am unable to comprehend a family’s decision to not see “grandma” in her golden aged years. I come from a family that is very small. We valued each other, right where we are at. We aren’t perfect, but made certain we visited our grandparents frequently in their golden years. Some clients share with me that their families only see them for birthdays and Christmas. And that breaks my heart as well as theirs.
Other moments that feel solitary are times when we must make a simple decision quickly;
“Let go of the client and grab the door that’s going to bang her from behind…” or “How do I get her from the car to the wheelchair to the entrance in a no parking zone and do I hope-no-traffic-cops-are-around trick, AGAIN, because we are late to her appointment?”
Sometimes elderly clients can be challenging. Bad days happen. Grumpy about life and everything in general carries over onto the person doing the caregiving. We take the brunt of a lot of their emotions, good or bad.
Sometimes there are cracks in OUR pottery. Our hearts break just a little bit when a regular client shows signs of regression or more symptoms in their condition.
The chips on our pottery appear in many ways. We have our OWN families and other emotional pulls on our lives as well. Caregiving is not just physically BEING THERE, it’s living the emotional roller coaster of several clients, sometimes as many as four or five, in ONE DAY. We chip. A little piece of us falls off. We may have a stellar day, where all clients are happy and peaceful. We may have those garbage days where nothing and no one even cares we are there with them. Our children suffer when we aren’t there to tuck them into bed, because we are filling in for Mrs. Smith’s regular caregiver who called in sick. And do we blame ourselves for prioritizing Mrs. Smith over our kiddos? I know I do!
Our hearts are soft, us caregivers. Sometimes we forget to take care of OURSELVES. Our homes suffer first. We take extra shifts to help out, to make sure Mrs. Smith is cared for, first. Our spouses many not see us if they have full time regular job hours because we can keep such weird and crazy hours that change at a moments notice. We come home emotionally spent a lot of nights.
Caregivers give much of themselves. The feeling of running on fumes doesn’t take long to surface on our radars.
What we need most is BALANCE. Knowing when to give, when to pull back.
I watch my client give her bowl some more wet clay, pulling at the edges making them more uniform. The thin spot now covered and thicker.
I see myself, pulled and molded, sharp and then soft. I realize that this caregiving thing is what I make of it.
I can decide how much I give to my clients, my family, and my spouse.
If I don’t have my priorities in line and straight from the get-go of this caregiving adventure, one or more of these will suffer. My own HEALTH may suffer. Both mental, physical and spiritual. No where in my caregiver training manual gave the cautionary “ BALANCE for the caregiver” speech. No one really stressed it enough that burn out can happen quickly if we don’t balance each aspect of our busy lives first. It’s more than a paycheck.
I am NOT a seasoned caregiver in the sense I have done this very long as a JOB.
I have however, been a caregiver since the age of 18 years old living with and caring for my great grandmother. It went back in my life even farther than that, when my mother was diagnosed with her first cancer when I was 11 years old. We didn’t have a home health nurse back in those days come and change surgical dressings. And my father checked out. I was it. So in many ways, I understand what families go through when they call a service that offers caregiving for their loved ones. It's a necessity.
When the family needs an outside source for care, I want them to call my company first. I want them to see our caregivers as fresh, softened hearts and with very little chips. Vessels full of love and kindness for their loved one. Capable skilled hands that get the “job” done but go above and beyond if needed.
We caregivers rely on our management teams to make sure we don’t become cracked, brittle and unusable. Support is important. Checking in, communication with their caregivers is a MUST. I am so grateful for a company that recognizes this. I am grateful for the emotional, spiritual and physical support they give me.
But I AM THE MOST INTRGREGAL PART OF THIS BALANCE. I can approach my role as much or as little as I choose. That realization is important.
Her pottery class reminds me why that’s okay.
I am a work in progress.
And yeah, I guess the cracks are part of the vessel (me!) but I have hope. AND I have courage.