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The Challenge of Caregiving
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This article originally appeared in the March 1999 issue of Talking Point.

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The Challenge of Caregiving

Author unknown

The news of terminal or chronic illness can be devastating to family and friends. “At the time of diagnosis every family feels alone. They may not know anyone else who has had this problem,” says Jeanne Munn Bracken, in Children With Cancer.

Family members and friends may suddenly find themselves thrust into the role of caregivers – providing for the physical and emotional needs of the one who is ill. Often this role is crammed into an already busy schedule.

The quality of the care that the patient receives will depend to a large extent on the well-being of those providing the care. Yet, the feelings and needs of those who look after the sick are often overlooked. If caregiving merely resulted in sore backs and strained shoulders, it would be difficult enough, but, as most caregivers will confirm, the care is provided at enormous emotional cost.

Caring for a seriously ill loved one can be a very frightening experience. The caregiver may be afraid of what will happen or that they will not have the strength or ability to meet the patient’s needs.

Grief is a normal experience for people coping with a loved one who has a chronic illness. You may experience the loss of a companion and a relationship which was important to you. You may grieve for the way they used to be.

A caregiver may wonder: “Why did this have to happen to me? Why don’t others help? Can’t they see I’m not coping well? Can’t the patient be more cooperative? At times, the caregiver may feel very angry about what seems to be growing and unfair demands made on them by the patient and by other family members. The one providing the care may also bear the brunt of the patient’s own frustrations and anger. Anger has the potential to mount to a high level in caregiving situations.

Many caregivers are plagued by feelings of guilt. Sometimes the guilt comes on the heels of anger – that is, they feel guilty because they feel angry at times. Such emotions may drain them to the point that they feel they can’t go on.

Feelings of guilt in the caregiver often go unspoken. If these feeling remain unspoken, they could be damaging to both the caregiver and the patient. What, the, can those providing care do to cope with these feelings? And what can others – family members and friends – do to help them?

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