Expert Advice

Tackling tactlessness

My sister-in-law is not very tactful. Yesterday she blurted out, “Do you actually have to bathe her? I wouldn’t.” I snapped back, “Grandma is not a cat who can lick herself clean!” Unfortunately, Gran heard and was embarrassed. Now she wants to go back to bathing herself again but it’s not safe. 

Agreed. Safety first! A better answer for your sister-in-law might have been, “Caregivers perform a wide swath of duties to help their relatives maintain their dignity and bring comfort. It is not a job for the squeamish but both Gran and I are comfortable with me helping her.” Have a quiet chat with Gran. Apologize for the insensitive exchange and re-confirm your willingness to help. Stress your genuine interest in spending time with her and wish to protect her from slips and falls in the bathroom.

Is it bravery?

I don’t think caregiving is a brave act but others suggest that, “I’m brave to take on the responsibility for my elderly father.” For me it’s a labour of love and certainly doesn’t involve any danger…. What do you think?

Caregivers are often told that their acts are brave, so you’re not alone. While you may feel that you’re slaying dragons some days, bravery isn’t really the correct descriptor for this role. You’d like to be described as dedicated, willing to take on responsibility, respectful, and committed to the delivery of person-centered care to someone near and dear to you. Suggest these phrases to your friends and colleagues and use them yourself when given the opportunity.

Sitting around the house

Since we retired I’m active, but my husband isn’t. He misses his workmates and doesn’t really do much. Any suggestions?

Retirement is a  big adjustment. Encourage family to stay in touch and, if you’re comfortable with it, arrange for friends to come by a little more. Suggest volunteering or things to do together. Be patient but if you’re getting depressed, contact his doctor for advice.

How can I conquer my guilt?

How often should I be visiting my parents? I feel guilty because my sister is there almost daily. She’s single and lives close by, but I live two hours away and have a young family.

Your situation isn’t unusual. Research shows most caregiving duties are performed by the sibling/child who lives the closest to the person who requires care/support. A few practical suggestions to reduce unnecessary guilt and help you stay involved: 1) Call regularly and stay in touch. Just a quick check in often means a lot. 2) Plan and share a schedule for your visits so your sister can take time off if she needs it. 3) Offer to take on some responsibilities from afar. Arranging appointments, ordering groceries or supplies online, planning family celebrations, etc. 4) Suggest your family set up an online system to assist with communication and updates. You could use a video messaging app like Zoom, Facetime or Skype.

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