Caregiving with Love Not Fear

Caregiving with Love, Not Fear

Rose and her husband were about to start the business of their dreams when her mom was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Rather than pursue that dream, they sold their house and moved in with her to provide care. Rose highlights the lessons she’s learned while caring for her best friend (her mom). Although caregiving has been the most painful and difficult thing she’s ever done, it’s also been rewarding and has helped her grow. This is Rose’s story.

As told to Open Caregiving and lightly edited to enhance readability while preserving the author’s voice.

Getting to know the caregiver

Hi, my name is Rose. I’m a millennial woman from México. I am currently a caregiver for my mom, who was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.

What did your life look like when you became a caregiver?

I was happy. My husband and I were getting ready to start our own business, we had big plans. Then my mom was diagnosed with late stage cancer. We sold our house and moved in with her so we could fully support her because she lives alone and I’m her only child.

Who did you care for and what prompted their need for care?

Our relationship was amazing, still is, even though this situation has caused us to be more resentful and defensive overall. I think it is normal to grieve and be overwhelmed, but I’m working on being more empathetic and compassionate. Above all, I’m trying to learn how to let go of the things I can’t control. My mom is my best friend, and it hurts so much to see her suffer, but I need to accept that the best thing I can do for her is just be here now. Without any judgment or expectations, just be here for her.

She was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, and even though she still tries to stay active, she needs help with everything from keeping the house clean, cooking, doing laundry, picking up medicine, grocery shopping, and taking her to doctors appointments and being her health advocate. It’s been so hard for her to depend on me. She has always been a very independent person, so she struggles a lot with this and it is very frustrating for both of us.

What was a memorable learning?

I truly don’t have any real control over anything in life! So I better accept the things that I can’t change and stay in the present.

What surprised you about caregiving?

Even though it is the most painful and difficult thing I have ever done, it is also very rewarding and has helped me to grow in so many ways. It gave me a stronger sense of purpose. I really think the most loving, selfless thing we can do for others is to take care of them in their most vulnerable time in life. Never in a million times did I think that I’d be grateful for this, but I am.

How do you try to balance being a caregiver while caring for yourself?

Ahh this is hard! The first couple of months I tried to keep my self-care routine. I’d go to the gym, meditate daily, read, and have a bit of time for myself. But as time passed, I just stopped thinking about myself and my needs. Now I realize that I need to take care of myself first if I want to be here for others, as I can’t pour from an empty cup!

At first I felt very selfish for needing (and requesting!) some alone time, but I’ve learned to respect my needs and be kind to myself, too. So every day I make sure I have at least 1 hour for myself to exercise, watch TV, read, or just take a bath. I still struggle with this, but it’s important to keep trying.

What resource would you recommend to caregivers?

I’d recommend two books, Walking Each Other Home by Ram Dass and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. Both were insightful and helped me accept what I’m going through.

What advice would you give to caregivers?

Let love rule everything instead of fear. Grief, pain, disease and death are part of life. Nothing is permanent so just let go and be here now. You are stronger than you think.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Don’t be afraid of being vulnerable. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Give yourself permission to grieve and be angry sometimes. Know that even though being a caregiver is very hard and challenging, it is also an amazing gift.

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