Women of Resilience, the Family Caregiver

Sometimes their life stories haunt my dreams. Weaving tales of pain and sorrow, along with immense strength, resilience, and inspiration. I awake with lingering sadness, feelings of inadequacy, or fresh ideas of how to deal positively with my own situation. As I reflect upon the amazing caregiving stories that Elk Valley women have shared when they reached out for support, I am reminded of a quote from Dr Victor Frankl. 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946).

The tenacity that has been demonstrated in these women as they have had to adapt to painful, new situations is a testament to the human spirit. I have listened with admiration as they talk about 20 exhausting years of caring for a husband with of Parkinson’s, and of the slow, inevitable loss of a life partner who now needed all of their attention. I have shared their fears for their aging parents’ safety and security, their frustration with siblings, and their confusion as they try to navigate the medical system and advocate for their loved ones. I have been fascinated with those who were able to find the boundaries between being a caregiver, having their own life, and juggling a healthy work/life balance. I have worried about myself and others who fall into codependency, and care more about their loved one’s happiness than about their own. Long distance caregiving is very common as we retire and try to manage family finances and arrange care for our parents or siblings from afar. I have recognized the fear that many of us share about needing to find long term care homes and hoping we never have to make those decisions. 

Watching working women caring for their parents who are still trying to care for each other, I have preached the message of the oxygen mask on the airplane. You know the drill about placing the mask over your own face first, before helping anyone else? We may laugh about it but recognize that some of us have had marginal success because we believe that it is our duty to be there for the ones we love. 

Watching these women demonstrate that life goes on regardless of life circumstances, I have started asking HOW they were able to get up every morning and do what needed to be done? WHAT gave them the strength and the will to learn what was required to care medically, physically and emotionally? WHEN did they realize that they had become a caregiver? WHO were they before they became a caregiver? And HOW have they changed to adapt to the circumstances?

Maya Angelou wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969). 

These stories of courage and conviction need to be told, if only to one person who cares, or someone who desires to listen and learn. Sharing our knowledge and what we have learned about living under the umbrella of Dementia with its evil tips of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lewy Body, Vascular disease, and Frontal Temporal Degeneration. We have talked about the aftermath of heart attacks, strokes, and broken bodies that don’t heal after accidents or simple falls. Cancer weaves it way into every family, and we learn how new oncology, chemo, and radiation treatments are steadily evolving. Brain tumors, seizures, hearing loss, abuse, and mental health issues can accompany other medical concerns, and make life even more difficult for the caregiver. Diabetes, smoking and drug/alcohol addictions may have wreaked their own havoc on bodies that now need care. Physical and mental disabilities may have been life long and those parents deserve medals for their dedication and devotion to their children. 

When the situation is critical, a family caregiver’s response is usually on point, but it is the day to day living where these women really show their resilience. I don’t mean to ignore men, and I know there are many wonderful men in our valley who are caring for wives and parents with quiet, faithful devotion. But this month’s issue is about women. So, in honour of International Women’s Day, I would like to say thank you to the women who have shouldered the responsibilities of the family caregiver and made such a difference in the life of a loved one. They were able to rise to the challenge of difficult, evolving situations, make the changes necessary, and live to tell the tale. 

The Elk Valley Caregiver support group meets in Fernie at Mugshots the 4th Wednesday of the month at 3:15pm. For more info visit caregiversnetworkek.com or email Info@caregiversnetworkek.com
Confidential Toll free line: 1-877-489-7044
Facebook: Caregivers Network for East Kootenay Seniors 
Marianne Agnew, Elk Valley Caregiver Support Facilitator pineconelodge5305@gmail.com