Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation has the honor of hearing stories from caregivers all over the country. During the month of January we will feature the story of one such caregiver. Jeannie Broussard simultaneously cared for her husband, Bertman (Bruce), and her mother, Louise, in two separate residences about one mile apart. She openly shares her caregiving experience and insists that caregiver fatigue is a serious illness. When you feel worn to the bone, encouragement comes from those who have travelled that road. Perhaps you will identify with what she shares. Marcia Howland, Ph. D., Spiritual Outreach Counselor for Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation, had the honor of meeting with Jeannie several times to hear her story and process through the time she spent caring for two beloved family members. She shares Jeannie’s caregiving struggles, joys, pains and sweet moments with us here.
Long-term caregiving is not a sprint; it is a marathon.
Long-term caregiving is not a sprint; it is a marathon. The relentless unwelcome battering of the urgent sometimes hinders doing the important. Trying to keep up with all of the demands of caring for someone, some days, seems like the black hole of the universe. When a caregiver’s fatigue hinders meeting expectations, even the best seems not to be good enough. Maintaining a clear definition between one’s self and tasking objectifies the life situation of caregiving. Concentration should center on doing the care as well as possible rather than feeling guilt or shame of being a “bad” caregiver. Of crucial importance is the avoidance of becoming only the “doer” of the tasks rather than the family relationship; for example, the relationship of spouse, sibling or parent.
Jeannie shared, “My mother started going blind at age thirty but was the active matriarch of her family. She was active, independent, knew her house well and managed much of her own care. She died of heart failure at age eighty-nine. That was eight months before Bruce died. When she became ill, my sister came from Houston thirteen times and would stay for six weeks at a time.
Caregiving, by force or choice, is demanding.
“Bruce served in the Army and Air Force. A life-living, self-employed salesman, he excelled at doing what it took to close the deal. After enduring a series of illnesses, multiple trips to the emergency room and hospitalizations during his last three years, Bruce died at the age of eighty-three. For the last couple of months, all of us temporarily lived at mother’s house which at least put us under one roof. Local family members were involved in weekly caregiving to give me breaks to shop, run errands, take care of business or grab a few minutes for myself.
“Looking back, two years after losing two important people in my life, here are some things that worked well:
Both person’s medications were accurately organized for easy access at appointed times.
Assistance with daily activities of living were scheduled regularly for each person.
Planning household tasks with precision saved time; for example, put in laundry then clean the bathroom.
Delegating others to help with yard work and repairs was essential.
Coaxing worked better than demanding my loved one to complete a needed task.
Extracting humor from an event released negative emotions through laughter.
Finding alternative ways of doing things after a couple of unsuccessful tries kept us accomplishing goals.
Routine exercise relieved stress and kept my body strong.
Being able to contact the hospice team by phone was effective in monitoring vitals and daily treatment programs.
Confidence in physicians reduced stress.
When Bruce said, “I’m dying,” I responded, “Yes, but not today.” That offered him comfort and support.
Maintaining a logbook recorded necessary information that could be checked for a pattern as well as providing information to the physicians.
The role of advocate is important to understand the disease, the process, the treatment and when hospitalization was necessary.
Financial and legal documents and funeral arrangements were in order.
Friends regularly visited Bruce.
Though unable to attend our congregation, my faith provided sustained comfort.
Preparing for medical visits was a major goal.
Advisors helped in finding ways to deal with physical, mental, emotional and grief issues.
Safety-proofing both houses was critical.
Providing healthy nutrition took time and attention.
“Caregiving, by force or choice, is demanding,” continued Jeannie. “It exacts energy from the caregiver and acceptance of limitations on the part of the care receiver. Communication helps to state who, why, what, when and where something is to be done. Clarification by asking questions rather than making assumptions provides emotional stability by dealing with one thing at a time. Compromise and collaboration for need-meeting helps both the caregiver and the care receiver to make the best of the situation.”
Part 2: Weathering the Caregiver Experience
Family caregiver Jeannie Broussard continues to share her struggles as a caregiver and how she learned to rebuild her identity after caring for her husband and mother.