7 Traits of a Hope-full Family Caregiver

A friend last week told me about a book called The Seven Desires of Every Heart by Mark Laaser and Debra Laaser. The authors tell us what every heart wants: to be heard, affirmed, blessed, safe, touched, chosen. This book's title reminded me of Stephen Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.

Which brings me to consider family caregivers. What characteristics or traits are important to have in a caregiving role? I created the seven traits, but then stumbled: What do these traits lead to? Empowerment? Health? And, then it hit me: Hope. Caregiving seems bereft of hope. These traits, I think, can help bring it back.

1. Resilient Backbone

It's a war out there. Or, rather in there--the bedroom, the bathroom, the car. And, then when you leave the house, it's a war in the doctor's office, the hospital, your sibling's house. Or, so it seems.

Battles become part of the experience: The battle of the wills with your career; the battle to find and receive the care you want for your caree; the battle to find and receive the help you want; the battle with yourself to stay patient, positive, to persevere. You'll get battle-weary, but a rebounding backbone is the best ammunition. Your resilient backbone means you keep an objective viewpoint (it's often not about you, but them), a belief in yourself and your abilities, a faith that props and comforts you, and a reliance on your best asset your gut.

2. Flexible Goals

When you begin your caregiving experience, your goal may be to keep your caree home until the end. But, then, the disease progresses, the house becomes an obstacle, the help disappears. Your goal may change to finding the best possible place to provide the care your caree needs.

It's okay when your goals change. Very little about the caregiving experience stays the same. Your goals should be as fluid as the experience, refining and updating as you go. A Caregiving Mission Statement can help you set and revise your goals.

3. Escape Routes

Maybe it's not Route 66, but your escape route takes you to the place where you can vent, scream and cry. The highway may lead to be your support group, your best friend, your pet.

Your road also may wind to the sanctuary you create in your house. Your sanctuary may be a corner of your bedroom, complete with your favorite photos, music, books and flowers. Your sanctuary may be that monthly golf game with your friends. Or, it could just be five minutes alone in your kitchen, when you can sit at the table with your eyes closed and day dream. Plan your escape routes and put them into practice.

4. Bulldog Tenacity

Caregiving can be a bull-dozer. To avoid tire marks on your forehead, be tenacious in a bulldog way. Know that your efforts will bring you answers, help and support. Accept no less.

5. Loud Laughter

Caregiving strips you naked, leaving you raw. That's good. Now you know what's important. Your loudest laugh, demonstrating how much you appreciate the joy and blessings in life, proves that. You can laugh because, amazingly, you've discovered life's secret: the moments, those 30-seconds of shared smiles of knowing, of close contact of love, of the combined power of compassion, matter most.

6. Resourceful Network

You're only one person which is why you tap into a network of resources. Build a team that helps and supports.

7. Forgiveness and Then Some

Oh, so many to forgive family members, friends, your caree, the disease and its relentless progression, your community, your faith, yourself. Does your heart and soul have enough to go around?

Yes, because living in unforgiveness only hurts you, no one else, not even those you may perceive to be unworthy of your forgiveness. The persons most difficult to forgive are those who act, and react, from fear. Resenting the fear-ful in your life weighs you down with their fears; forgiving them frees you. Although it can sometimes seem otherwise, people are doing their best. Believe that and move on to find the best possible for you and your situation.

So, you ask, where's the hope? The hope in caregiving lies in knowing that the cure for life is to live it, regardless of severity of struggles. Living fully, even around and within the struggles, opens you to unimagined blessings.