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Why Hope Matters for Caregivers

I have never met a caregiver who doesn’t struggle with accepting the reality of the situation that faces her. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s how you get through the long days…the dark nights and the moments that frighten you to the point of paralysis. If you were always realistic about what you’re facing, chances are good, you might not get out of bed.  Some days you need hope to keep going. You need to believe that the outcome of all your work is going to be fruitful and that it’s going to matter.

A wise person once wrote, “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are someone to love and something to hope for.” Such a perfect description for caregivers. Personally, I don’t think you can be a successful family caregiver without HOPE!

Hope is sometimes the only emotional fuel you need to get through the day, but what happens when you receive really bad news; or you get a frightening diagnosis from the doctor; or you can see before your eyes that hope might not be able to get you through any longer? What do you do then?

You continue to HOPE but this time with eyes wide open. You add reality to the mix, but you don’t stop hoping.

I remember when the doctor delivered my Dad’s final diagnosis and I remember hearing the words, “It’s terminal. There’s nothing left for us to do.” The doctor was gentle in his delivery, but in my head, the words were deafening. I felt weak in the knees and the blood drained from my face. I was speechless and angry and scared and for a while, I was without hope. It wasn’t fair. He had worked so hard to get well. It wasn’t fair and I wasn’t ready to give up. Have you ever felt this way? 

I wanted to run as far away from the hospital as I could possibly get, but that wasn’t an option. I had to figure out what to do, so I went to my Dad, and even though he wasn’t communicating much or opening his eyes; I knew he would somehow speak to me. And he did just that when he reached over and took my hand.

He was tired. He was 88 years old and he had lived a good, long and rich life. He had had more than his share of loss and tragedy, but he had also known wonderful friends and he had lived a robust life. Dad really lived and now he couldn’t. Age and illness had a taken all that away from him and he was just tired. He was ready, but I wasn’t. I never shared the doctor’s words with him. He knew something was wrong. He knew his time here was ending soon and for my family and me, that was enough.

I decided that HOPE would still lead the way, only this time differently. I would turn my focus to making him as comfortable and pampered as I could. I would let him do whatever he wanted (within reason) and I would make his last few months the kindest he had ever known. I would let HOPE guide the way because my hope was always that he would be ready for his next journey.

I encourage you to never let go of hope, because in the darkest days, it can save you. But when the time comes and the reality of life sets in, then let hope and reality guide your path together.  Sometimes you have to let go and hope that you’ve done all you can do. Your role is not to control your loved one’s life, but rather to give the best you can; when you can; and trust the process. We need more hope and less control, don’t you think?

By Cindy Laverty