2010 April 26
by Dr. Zachary White

Didn’t go to medical school? Me either. Didn’t go to nursing school? That’s a ‘no’ for me too.  Ever care for someone who is (was) sick or dying? Me too. Did you feel prepared?

I had no idea just how unprepared I was to help care for my mother when she was given a terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of 54. But it had nothing to do with how little medical knowledge I had. Being unprepared is what happens to anyone who cares for someone they love.

You and me, we’re different than professionals who care. We don’t have medical degrees behind our names that allow us to care with certainty. Our care is messy. It’s not scheduled. It doesn’t have visiting hours. It doesn’t begin the moment we walk in the examination room. It can’t protect itself with objectivity. And it doesn’t end the moment we shake hands and say, “take care.”

When our care meets our love for someone, we can’t help but be unprepared. Caring for someone you love doesn’t have visiting hours. Our care is a 24-hour labor of love. It doesn’t take off holidays and it works on the weekends. It can’t be quarantined to a hospital room or rehabilitation center. It’s in your home. It’s everywhere. It’s on your mind when you’re sitting next to your loved one and it’s in your head and heart when you’re thousands of miles away on a business trip. And you can’t protect yourself with the mask of objectivity. That’s your mother you’re sitting next to. Or your brother. Or your sister. Or your grandmother or grandfather. You helplessly watch them when they sleep.  And the thought of them not being with you in the future gives you nightmares when you sleep.

Unprepared? It’s not something I’m ashamed to say I was when I helped care for Mom. It’s a badge of honor. Being unprepared means knowing that care is the only thing you can give when you can’t promise that it will all be better.

When someone asks me now if I had wished I was more prepared to care for Mom when she was dying, I proudly tell them “No.” Being prepared means outsourcing all of your care when the person you love most needs you the most.

5 Responses leave one →
  1. September 16, 2012

    Thank you so much for writing this! I think most caregivers are unprepared when it comes to illness. Especially those caring for younger patients afflicted with chronic illnesses. I guess most people think caregivers are taking care of their aging parents, but that’s not always the case! I know my parents were prepared for me to be off on a successful path but found me moving back home at 3o due to health issues. I’ve had to move home every 3 years since adulthood. Being single, my parents are the only ones that take care of me when I need it. So this article definitely hits homes. I am reposting on my nonprofit’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/BentButNotBrokenCFIDS

  2. Dr. Zachary White permalink
    September 17, 2012

    Thanks for the kind words Lindsey. You speak from first hand expeirence and as you say, caregiving clearly does not discriminate across all ages, backgrounds, etc. Hope you find the Unprpeared Caregiver resources helpful and reassuring. Best, Dr. White.

  3. September 17, 2012

    I agree w/ u. I never take time for myself. I’m here eyervday w/ a sickHusband and my sons out of work. I can’t move cause I have an 84 year old dad who lives aloneAnd wants me near. I have a gf in prescott but I’m findind out she to much of a handfulWith her boderline personality. Do u know of a gay psychlogist or someone I can talk to about my problems?Since my husband found out I like women he’s been upset which is understandableBut the stress in this house is unbearable. I have noone to talk to. I know you rA site for caregivers. I use to do that back in 92 when I fist move to AZ.I cared for an older women but then I had to leave. I got married to a guy who was very needy still isAfter 17 yrs. I asked u before if u knew of anyone in Havasu or Parker we could carpool to your workshopPlease keep looking ty for your help DJ

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