While a loved one’s end of life one can be an intimate and enriching time, it also comes with its share of difficult moments. We might need to extensively reorganize our daily lives and experience many complex emotions. Without necessarily realizing it, we may take on a demanding and new role: that of caregiver. New responsibilities often lead to neglect our own needs, jeopardizing our health and our ability to care for others.

Who are caregivers?

Many of us will be called upon to become caregivers, sometimes without even consciously claiming the title. Since the caretaking relationship develops gradually, it is sometimes difficult to take its full measure upfront. Furthermore, since “helping out” usually fits into a family dynamic or friendship, it may seem natural and even normal. However, as soon as you regularly care for someone who is ill, you are a caregiver, whether or not this role entitles us to Compassionate care benefits. For instance, a daughter will perform tasks when her mother reaches end of life will that were not her responsibility before. Tasks, such as feeding, washing and helping her mother get around, for instance, gradually lead her to go beyond her role as an adult child and to take on the role of a caregiver.

What challenges do caregivers face? 

Wearing a new hat, caregivers face all sorts of challenges, on top of dealing with their own grief and anguish at losing their loved ones. Caregivers may suffer from exhaustion or loneliness, since their unique experience can feel indescribable and thus difficult to share, especially when time and energy are limited. They may also suffer from sleep deprivation, mental distress or even financial problems, if they are forced to quit their job to care for their loved one, for example.

Why should you take care of yourself?

It’s important not to forget that we have to help ourselves before we can help others. By listening to yourself and taking the time to “charge your batteries,” you’ll be better able to stay present, to provide quality care and to fully experience your loved one’s last moments. People at the end of life are no longer able to reciprocate in care, and may feel like a burden to their loved ones. Seeing their caregiver enjoying life, staying connected with themselves and taking time for themselves despite the situation can indirectly bring relief to people at the end of life.

How can various therapies help caregivers take care of themselves?

St. Raphael’s multidisciplinary team offers a range of therapeutic services to support the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being of both people living with incurable diseases and their caregivers. Here are some of the benefits that caregivers can derive from various therapies:

Social Work

Social workers can help you identify your needs, at a time when you are most concerned about the needs of others, and will help you develop a personalized care plan. They can also provide empathetic listening, guide you toward resources, and help you write a will and manage financial considerations.

Acupuncture

At the crossroads of body and mind, acupuncture helps you accept your emotions. It is calming and will give you a physical respite. Modifying our brain activity, acupuncture will help you better manage stress and anxiety.

Art Therapy

At a time when energy is scarce, non-verbal approaches like art therapy may require less effort. Working with clay, paint or photography, for instance, you can relieve anxiety, improve self-esteem and restore vitality, and let out sometimes-difficult emotions.

Massage Therapy

Massage calms the nervous system, strengthens the immune system and reconnects the senses, allowing us to anchor ourselves in the moment. Once reconnected with our body, we become aware of our physical and psychological limits—an essential part of self-care.

Music Therapy

Music therapy reminds us that we can experience enjoyment, like small fireflies brightening an often busy day. Workshops can also be times to explore the connections we have with our loved ones.

These services aim to improve caregivers’ quality of life and relieve their isolation. They also allow caregivers to experience their emotions in a safe environment. Let’s remember that if caregivers manage to be there for themselves, they will be able to better support their loved one through the dying process, and fully experience alongside them this crucial and privileged period of the lifecycle.

To learn more about the services of the Day Center, click here.

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