Caring for a dying loved one is often one of the most rewarding but exhausting jobs you will ever take on. Caregivers witness the life that is unfolding in front of them. Ultimately a caregiver is the observer of the loved one’s passing . Sometimes a fine line is walked between being able to give care and get in the way. The best way to serve anyone is simply to be fully present with them. The dying loved one will share at whatever level they feel comfortable sharing. Allowing the dying person to express in an open way what ever feelings they are processing is a gift that the caregiver can be part of.
The best thing that the family can do for the patient is to let go of the ego and learn to listen deeply, sometimes reading between the lines to what is not being said. In my book, Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care for the Dying (Balboa Press, 2013), www.soulservice.info the caregivers I interviewed felt it was a privilege to walk through the door of the dying family's home and service their loved one.
However, constant exposure to death and dying can take its toll on the most compassionate of caregivers. It is of utmost importance that the caregiver be able to take care of him or herself. Eating healthy foods, taking some time to exercise, go on a short trip, have time with family and friends, go out to eat or to a movie, get enough rest are all integral parts of good self -care. Ask another family member of friend to help relieve you of the caregiving role for a few hours each week and make time for yourself. Hire a professional nurse’s aide or companion if your budget allows.
If you are a professional caregiver, a nurse or physician, social worker or chaplain, there are some good tips on managing the stress of the job provided by the American Psychological Association:
Tips for Balance in the Workplace
For further information and resources visit the APA website.
Often there will be in a large hospital or hospice setting an employee assistance program. These should be utilized to access counselors who are trained to help reduce life stressors, including caregiving to the terminally ill. One Atena insurance study proved that the employee group who received complementary care that offered yoga, guided meditation and breathing techniques had claims that were $2,000 less annually than those in the control group who received no stress reduction education. If your employer does not offer an employee assistance program ask them to consider sponsoring a workshop that will cover some of the information on how to reduce caregiver stress.
Powerful life lessons come from those who are going through the dying process. Sometimes these lessons are profound and uplifting, and they can serve as examples of what we want to avoid in our own lives. It is impossible not to be altered by the experience. It often happens that people who have had family members in hospice end up becoming hospice volunteers later as they so appreciated the help they received and want to pay it forward.
Caregiving can be one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. The sense of gratification and the knowledge that one was of service to the dying patient or loved one is its own best reward.