September 29th, 2010 at 10:20 am
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Just How Strong Do Caregivers Need to Be, Anyway?

by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

Beyond a shadow of doubt, caregivers demonstrate strength in caring for others who are chronically ill. Like other individuals, there are other things we could be doing in our lives. If, as some caregivers say, they did not choose caregiving, those caregivers are even stronger than they realize. They’ve not walked away or turned their backs even though caregiving chose them, and not the other way around. Strength is a matter of perspective.

Caregivers are human, not super heroes and heroines of care. Our humanity is where it all starts, and, ultimately will end one day. Caregivers are as strong, and, as vulnerable, as elders in our care. I would be wealthy by now if someone had given me a dollar each time I heard a caregiver say, “I have to be strong…for him…for her…for the family…Everyone’s looking to me…” I understand the meaning of the words.

One of my friends was buried recently at the age of 59. She had retired after an illustrious career. In retirement, she devoted herself to caring for her aging mother who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s decline. Her mother is not cognitively aware that her primary caregiver has died. Before her death, my friend was strong…for her mother’s sake.

There are an increasing number of news reports about caregivers and stress.’s Editor-in-Chief, Carol Bradley Bursack’s blog, CNN Reports on Caregiver’s Risk of Illness, cites “hundreds (thousands?) of studies, articles and references to the toll constant caregiving can take on the caregiver’s physical and mental health….”

Years ago, my sibling e-mailed me an article referencing one such study. In my e-mailed reply, I shared that I thought I knew “exactly why” caregivers may…die before elders in our care. “It’s because caregivers absorb life stress, plus the stress load of the person for whom we care. ” I have to be strong for him…for my family…for others …”

Mine is a slightly different take on “strength.” There is tremendous strength in vulnerability. It takes strength to honestly say, “I’m tired right now…I need to rest.” Unlike my mother, who still climbs stairs laboriously and voluntarily, there are times I am too tired to walk upstairs to get something that can wait…until I get much-needed rest.

Some caregivers hold back healing tears. Tears can be healing, whether they flow from my carer’s heart, or, from my mother’s heart. Healing tears allow an outpouring of emotions that might otherwise be gridlocked in…toxic strength(?)

Don’t allow false strength to kill you. Peace.

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