There are many components of being a good caregiver. But if I had only a few minutes to tell you something I would say, “Remember the five Ls of caregiving.” As caregivers we need to look, listen, learn, let go, and love. These are important, no matter who you are, no matter what situation you are in, and no matter who you are caring for.
When we are caring for someone we know we can enter caregiving with all sorts of preconceptions. It might be your husband who you have known for fifty years, or a parent you have known for decades. You naturally think, “I know what they are like,” but being sick and needing care changes a person. You can’t fully care for someone based upon what you previously have known about them. Every day in caregiving is new and different. You need to look and see what they are facing today and what their needs are in the present.
As a caregiver it is important not only to look every day in order to see what is really going on with the person in your care, but you also need to listen. Don’t presume. Ask and listen. People need to be heard if they are to feel like they are cared for and understood. Pay close attention to what they are saying–and what they are not saying. And don’t forget to listen to anyone else in the house as well. If you are caring for Mom, and Dad is there, too, make sure you also listen to Dad. Maybe Dad is depressed and struggling with what is happening to Mom. The needs of everyone in the house are interrelated, so make sure you are listening to everyone who is involved with the caregiving situation.
After you have looked and listened, make sure you take everything in and learn. If you look and you listen but it all passes right out of your head, you have just wasted everybody’s time. Make sure that after you have looked and listened you then apply everything that you have gained. This is crucial. If you look and listen and learn, you have the tools to be the best caregiver.
What bothers us about certain doctors? It is when they come into the room and they don’t look and they don’t listen and they don’t learn what is going on with us. They just decree from on high and sweep out of the room, and we don’t feel truly cared for, or as though our problems are truly known. As someone who is looking, listening, and learning you can be the advocate for the person in your care when health care professionals are not doing the looking, listening, and learning that they should. You can tell that doctor or nurse, “You don’t understand what is going on. Now let me tell you,” and you can explain the needs of the person in your care.
Every caregiver must let go in the end. Whether the person in your care has recovered or they have reached the end of a fatal illness, the caregiving journey does not last forever. When a person recovers from their illness the caregiver must let them return to their normal independent and healthy life. It can be hard for a caregiver to recognize they are not needed anymore. When a person’s illness ends in death, it can be even harder for caregivers to let go because it means they are saying their final goodbye.
It is vitally important to learn how to let go. If we do not let go at the appropriate time but instead hang on with a clenched fist, we will make both the person in our care and ourselves miserable. Whether you are caring for someone who is recovering from cancer or someone who is in the process of dying from Alzheimer’s, recognize that as a caregiver you must eventually let them go. Pay attention, and be sensitive to when this time has arrived.
How do you know when it is time to let go? How do you learn everything you need to know for caregiving? How do you truly listen and look? Life would be so much simpler if there there was a nice little pamphlet called “The Ten Easy Steps of Caregiving” which told you how to do everything, but there isn’t. Life isn’t simple that way.
But there is a basic foundation to the best caregiving. This foundation is love. On this you must build everything else.
Consider this example: When you bring your baby home from the hospital, the child doesn’t come with directions–“The Ten Easy Steps to Raising Your Child.” So how do you learn to raise your child? At the heart of it, you learn by loving that baby. Because love wells up and overflows in your heart you pay careful attention and you listen and you learn. Love carries you through all of the trials of child rearing, and in the end love is what enables you to let your grown children go out into the world and live their own lives.
What is true about caring for a baby at the beginning of life remains true about caring for anyone at any time in their lives. Love is what motivates and equips you to be the best caregiver. If you love someone you will look and listen and learn, and in the end love will teach you when it is time to let go. Love is what makes the best caregiver. This is true in all areas. The best doctors and nurses are not the people who graduated at the top of their class–they are the people who love their patients and seek the best for them.
You want to be a good caregiver? Remember the five Ls of caregiving, and above all else love the person in your care. From that love will flow everything else you need.