Today as I stepped into my office chair, a piece of paper slipped from a corner of my desk. As I bent to retrieve it, I found myself staring at a picture of my mom and dad taken just hours before my mom died from complications related to Alzheimer’s. Her face is angled toward my father, her eyes closed. My father’s eyes are closed, too, drinking in these final moments.
For the next twenty minutes, I was consumed with tears. It’s been over five years since Mom died, and at times I’m certain I can hear her shuffling steps coming down the hallway or see her standing in her pink robe at the foot of my bed. Although I know she’s enjoying the indescribable glories of heaven, I still miss her terribly.
But I am far from alone. I have the resources of my local church, of GriefShare, as well as the loving support of my husband, family, and friends. And in our in-home caregiving situation for more than eight years, I also had the additional resources of state programs, social workers, books, and counselors.
But my childhood stands in stark contrast. I cannot remember a time when my parents weren’t caring for their sick parents. I was on my own when it came to processing my feeings. I was left to come to my own conclusions regarding my grandmother’s mental illness. And no one consulted me before deciding that my other grandmother would become my roommate. For months, I woke up every morning fearful to open my eyes, wondering if Grandma Burke would be lying dead beside me.
CAREGIVING TIPS FOR KIDS:
- For those of you looking for age-appropriate resources on grief and trauma relating to children, I’d suggest consulting the National Institute of Trauma and Loss in Children (TLCInst.org). A second suggested resource is Where are You?: A Child’s Book About Loss by Laura Olivieri (email@example.com).
- Jodi Bauers, Child Life Manager of Pediatriacs at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, suggests that one way parents can help their children identify feelings in times of stress, loss, and trauma is through appropriate stories and books. Another suggestion is to offer children opportunities to work through their feelings in group settings with organizations like Sibshop (www.siblingsupport.org/sibshops). Child Life Specialists like Jodi, working in medical, educational, and social work settings, encourage play, preparation, education, and self-expression as key components in helping children deal with their feelings in times of difficulty.
- All children must be lovingly nurtured, but when kids grow up in caregiving environments, several important factors should be considered. First of all, adults need to slather on a little extra comfort, remembering that in some caregiving situations, a child’s sense of boundaries, security, and significance may be threatened. For those same reasons, parents need to offer meaningful and plentiful conversation, even if that conversation takes place in a car or snuggled next to a child in bed at night.
- Additionally, we need to be sure our children are confident of our commitment to them. Children in caregiving situations often feel displaced, resentful, or ignored. One element of our commitment should be continuing to participate in as many aspects of our children’s schedules as possible.
- Finally, we should strive to maintain continuity in our kids’ lives. This can be difficult, but our children need to know that their birthdays, ball games, and social schedules are important, even if we can’t always be there. Striving for continuity may mean asking our children to choose just one after-school activity or enlisting the regulary-scheduled help of friends, relatives, or a nanny to help us try to keep life in balance.
- If caregiving is a primary focus of your family life, one final suggestion would be to consider the role of counseling–for your children or your entire family. Take it from the girl who resented Grandma’s teeth on her nightstand, Grandma’s judgment of her music, and Grandma’s claim on the bathroom every morning before school at 7am. And take it from the girl who wallowed in guilt after Grandma was later moved into a nursing home, where she died. Counseling, even years later, helped me regain God’s perspective on how those years shaped my life.
It’s easy for children to feel forgotten, angry, or to be overwhelmed with guilt in the complexities of caregiving. We can’t forget that Satan works to use even our most loving acts to accomplish destructive purposes.
If you have suggestions to offer on the topic of children and caregiving, I’d love to have the opportunity to share them with my readers.