Wednesday, 1 March 2017
Care Partner Wednesday--What is a Care Partner?
It's a question there is no one answer to. Care partners have different roles, depending on who they are and who they are partnering in care with.
For the next several weeks, we are going to be looking at care partners and their roles, by looking at each letter in their name. C-A-R-E P-A-R-T-N-E-R, who are you?
The letter C obviously stands for care, but what does care look like?
One phrase I've heard many times is, "I'm not a care partner, I just..." (fill in the blank--I just visit, pick up a few things, drop in on weekends, listen, make some meals for her etc.) These all make me cringe, but the one that makes my eyebrows fly up and causes me to bite my tongue is, "I'm not a care partner, I'm just his wife." Care partners come in many forms, but you are all care partners. Especially spouses.
Here is what a care partner isn't: perfect. Like anyone else, we reach the edge of patience at times, and have to dig deeper for love when someone acts unkindly. We get embarrassed and exhausted and have our limits. Not all care partners do everything, and that's okay. I have been a care partner for 18 years, and still have to turn my head away and stifle my gag reflex when teeth come out of mouths. I have other areas of care I am good at, but teeth aren't my forte.
Care partners have something to give. It might be a listening ear, kindness, a trip to the park, or practical items like tissues and toothpaste. It might be taking to appointments and listening to doctors and trying to help decide the best course of action. It might be listening to the same story over and over again.
Sometimes care partners feel inadequate. "I didn't ask for this job, I'm not patient enough. I don't have the skills, I'm not good at it." It's easy to feel frustrated and live with a constant sense of failure, which is sometimes reinforced by your elder. Take heart! You may be stretched and challenged, but there will be moments when you can look back and say, "I made a difference."
Other care partners are naturally nurturing people who have cared for their elder (spouse, sibling, friend) for years, and are having trouble letting go. Others are now involved in their care, and this is difficult for you to accept. Your role is important, but it's changing, and you struggle to find your sense of purpose.
Then there is the care partner who is overwhelmed. Beside your elder, you have a growing family, a job and other responsibilities. You are exhausted and wonder if you are doing any of it right.
Do you see yourself among these care partners? The truth is, both care and care partners come in many versions, and all are needed. I may not be good at teeth, but I'm a good listener, and sometimes I can coax a laugh. Your practical help can compliment a volunteer who takes your elder out for a walk.
It takes a village--of care partners--to care for our elders. Maybe the question is not what is a care partner, but who is a care partner?
The answer is--you.
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