Caregiver: a person who cares for someone sick or disabled.
Recently I have had a few massage therapy patients become caregivers for their spouses. One day they are going through life normally, with their own routines, their own chores, and their independence. The next day they are taking on their spouse’s routines and chores.
Both spouses have lost their independence.
The caregiver suddenly has had to take on roles at home such as chef, chauffeur, life coach, physical care aid, etc. Roles that maybe they hadn’t done in a long time, some possibly never. The transition has not been easy, but my patients have done it with patience and grace.
Having been both a cancer patient and a cancer patient-caregiver, I can honestly say that it is often harder to be a caregiver. It is hard to watch your loved one go through something challenging. A caregiver often feels helpless. As a patient you have goals: get through surgery, get through rehab, get through the next oncology appointment. Your adrenaline moves you through. The caregiver watches you recover from surgery, cry from pain and frustration, and have side effects from treatment. The caregiver worries.
When I was going through cancer treatment my husband was always asked, “How’s Meaghan doing?”. I wish they would have asked him, “How are YOU doing?”.
Understanding For The Caregiver
Here is a real-life example of what I have seen in my massage therapy practice.
Last year one of my patients had a stroke. He suffered extensive physical weakness on his dominant side. He could no longer drive, he had to relearn how to get out of bed, walk, get to the bathroom in time, he even had to find new ways to get dressed. A lot of these things are still challenging for him.
For the first several months his spouse had to help him with everything. She diligently drove him to his massage therapy appointments with me, to his physical therapy appointments, to his neurology appointments. She had an appointment book with her that was filled with daily appointments for her husband.
One day I looked her in the eyes and said, “How are you doing?”. She looked back at me and after a moment said, “I’m tired.” I suggested maybe she should book herself in for a massage one day. Just to have an hour of quiet time alone. A couple of months later I saw her name in my schedule and she hasn’t looked back. She comes in each month, talks a bit about how different her life feels, and then has peaceful silence for 60 minutes on my massage table.
It’s so important for us as massage therapists to take care of those that need our help physically, but it’s also important to take care of the caregivers.
What Can We Do?
Here are somethings we as massage therapists can do to help.
- Encourage the caregiver to take time for themselves. As I did, I suggested my patient’s wife come in for massage herself. I think she values this time now. Some other suggestions excellent suggestions are:
- making time for exercise
- making time for rest or sleep
- participate in social events
- ask for and accept help. Accepting help can be very hard. Let the caregiver know it is ok to have help
- find a hobby they can do alone or with their spouse
- find a few hours a week that brings them joy
- Let them talk. Chances are the spouse who is suddenly sick or disabled often complains about how their life has changed. We must remember the caregiver’s life has changed too. They may need to get some frustration, anger, or sadness out. Let them.
- Allow them into your life. Maybe they would like to hear about a “normal” life. Share your life with them. Tell them positive stories about your kids or family. Something that made you laugh on the weekend.
- Limit negative talk. You might be sick of the rainy weather. Maybe you are also be going through some challenging times. Life is hard! But try to limit negative talk with clients who are going through the hard stuff. Negativity can become competitive. How much are they suffering compared to you? Their life is hard now, don’t let them downplay it and don’t downplay it for them.
- Be quiet and calm. Maybe they don’t want to talk at all. Maybe they want a gentle massage. You are the professional and should gage their mood each time you see them. While my massage practice is focused mainly on relaxation first, I can easily tell if a patient wants to talk throughout the entire treatment or if they want to be silent. Let your patient guide this.
- Encourage them. Tell them how great they are doing. After each treatment with my patient I say, “You’re doing amazing things for your husband. He is lucky to have you.” I also remind her to do something for herself again that week. Perhaps they will remember these words on a day seems harder than normal.
- Find resources. Perhaps the caregiver will need some further resources, such as support groups or counseling. Having a list or offering to look for more information that could help your patient. From personal experience, there are a lot of social media support groups where people with similar life challenges can ask questions and share stories. I have met several new friends through these support groups.
While this post has stories about becoming a caregiver by surprise, the content would be excellent for all caregivers. There are a variety of different types of caregivers. Some may have cared for a disabled child since birth some may be hired caregivers, some may be new caregivers.
Caregiving asks you to lean into love you didn’t know possible. It asks you to change your life. It asks you to give.
Let us give something to the caregivers.