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Caretaker to Undertaker

Being a caretaker is a very demanding and exhausting job to perform. Certainly, being a dedicated provider for someone, usually a family member, is quite rewarding; however, the caretaker function can halt or delay your livelihood and your ability to generate an income. The Merriam-Webster defines the word caretaker in several ways.

· One that gives physical or emotional care and support.

· One that takes care of the house or land of an owner who may be absent.

· One temporarily fulfilling the function of office.

The definition that I wanted to focus on and discuss is the first on the above list. Those of you that have been a dedicated caretaker for another person can certainly relate to the emotional and physical drain this can have on your normal activities and livelihood. I have a lot of years of experience working on an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and have seen how much of a toll a family experiences when caring for those with physical injuries and disabilities. Identified caretakers generally dedicate all their energy and resources when they take on the care of a person who cannot take care of themselves. Over my years of working on an ICU, I have seen how much wear and tear that caretakers have brought upon themselves. Caring for someone, especially someone who cannot do anything, or very little for themselves, can instill a very deep emotional and physical deuteriation on the caregiver. Most people who find themselves in this role, tend to forget that they must also take care of themselves, and generally begin to have their own emotional and physical issues. Additionally, many caregivers refuse to attend to their own needs, due to their devoted attention to those that they care for. I am not in any way trying to state that caregivers are irresponsible with their own health, they just seem to have an over abundant amount of sympathy and empathy for those that suffer. Once a caregiver ends up in this spiral, it becomes difficult to pull back and take care of themselves, because the guilt of taking time off is just too strong. Life becomes hard to balance and every ounce of their energy is given away, eventually leaving them with an empty cup. Resentment and anger may begin to set in, and generally the caregiver is not even aware that this is happening. Although the caregiver usually gives their time willingly, it can start to become a commitment from which they cannot escape. I am certainly not encouraging people to deny or to not step up to help others, I am simply encouraging caregivers to remember balance and that they also matter in this situation.

I understand that the title of this article seems quite grim at face value, however, I want to discuss the role as an undertaker in two different aspects. There are of course those who have, and/or are taking care of the dying, and this is quite the noble position and role. I have watched as my mother and sister in law have slowly reached their point of death, being taken care of by other family members, and eventually hospice staff. Yes, in this respect, the caretaker to undertaker definition is appropriate, and the people who give their all in the support of the dying takes an incredible caring spirit indeed. Being a caretaker of those with physical limitations is only one aspect; sometimes we become a caregiver of those who need emotional and mental support, and many times it is caregiving at all levels. Sometimes those we care for reach a point where a caregiver is not needed full time. Whether the person receiving care has died, or has improved enough, that they no longer require our caretaking services, or require a very significant decrease in assistance, the change can be very difficult on the once appointment caregiver — this would be how I would define “undertaker”.

Imagine being a dedicated caregiver, one that devotes all their money, time and effort in the support of someone who cannot take care of themselves, or someone who struggles to maintain normality. You have put off all your personal aspirations, goals and dreams to support this person, then suddenly, they don’t need you any longer, through death or a rapid change for the better. This can be a very haunting and depressing time for the one-time caregiver; you can begin to feel hollow, not useful, with a feeling that you are simply nowhere in life now. All the things that have become known as normal, has been taken away and now you can be left with much less to do. Additionally, now you have to deal with your own physical, mental and financial hardships that have resulted from your total dedication from being a caretaker; you may begin to feel like someone needs to take care of you now. Many of the emotions and issues that you put aside for your previous role may begin to boil to the surface, result in great anger, depression, and anxiety. You now must become a caregiver for yourself in your new role as an undertaker.

My experiences while working with people in their role as a caregiver, has shown that many mistakes can easily be made. A caretaker role has the potential to drain every part of your life at all levels, and when it suddenly changes, you can find yourself in a very interesting predicament. My experience with others has shown that you can only give so much without receiving back; it can become extremely difficult to give from an empty cup. Resent, anger and despair can become your normal state if you don’t stop and realize that you are important as well. At times those feelings have nowhere to go and your mind can begin to cry out to find any way or any reason to run away. However, guilt and shame for stepping away or backing down from a caretaker role may be very intense and very hard to overcome or manage. Even when someone does manage to step away and provide for themselves, there tends to be that nagging voice in the back of their mind that keeps them braced for a crash, a deterioration of the one you care for, thereby pulling them back in. It can them become very difficult to feel comfortable with committing one’s self to anything, knowing that you might be summoned back into the caretaker role again.

I guess the caring mentality within a person can never really be diminished; however, I will digress to remembering that the wellbeing of the caretaker counts and that they matter in this important role. The more someone takes care of themselves, them better they can give and care for another. It is very difficult for a broken person to care for another broken person – remember that balance is the goal while being in this role!!!

Always be true to you and your existence!!!

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