What I learned from Miss Yvonne was invaluable: attitude really, truly is everything. During an evening visit at her home, we were enjoying a glass of her favorite vino. As I marveled at her strength and the joy she radiated, I was compelled to ask, “How do you do it?” She said, “Caring for a loved one is a decision you make. It’s about perspective. Every day you wake up and remember that ultimately, it was your decision to do this. You knowingly, willingly, take on the responsibility.” Her dimples deepened as she smiled at me, coaxing me toward recognition of my situation and acceptance of it. “Your loved one didn’t ask to be in the position that they’re in,” she said. “I always think about how I would want to be treated if I were in their shoes.”
Late that evening, as I lay in bed and reflected on those words, I imagined, with a mindset of that nature, I could become a much better caregiver to my mother. It was clear to me with the right attitude it is pretty easy to do anything. And when you do what you do consciously and out of love, then it is made so much easier.
Miss Yvonne also said she did not believe in having pity parties, not for herself and not for her loved ones. She never looked at her loved ones through the lens of their afflictions. It was really a self-serving attitude. If she didn’t pity them, she most certainly could not pity herself.
Years later, I could look back and recognize something remarkable had transpired. Miss Yvonne had been guiding me on the caregiver’s journey, moving me along from helplessness to recognition of what the task was, recognition of the fact I had already signed up for it, and recognition of what I needed to be and do to succeed in it.
Time for Yourself Is Non-Negotiable
Miss Yvonne’s one and only brother was her best friend and she loved him fiercely. She felt it was her honor to care for her brother, Isaac. Though wheelchair bound, Isaac was a strong man, with a chiseled face and a great big heart. He was socially conscious, loved politics and was concerned about humanity as a whole.
Her mom, Miss Lilly, was and had always been someone special. Even with dementia, she always had an endearing smile on her face. Miss Lilly was a lady of style and charm. Petite and loving, she always had a kind word for everyone. She affectionately referred to me and many others as “Sugah.”
Miss Yvonne also exemplified how important it was to do the things you still loved to do while caregiving. She understood the need for respite care and creating time for herself. She regularly got together with her old friends, went out to lunch, saw Broadway plays, and took in her favorite musicians when they came to town. She loved shopping and dining out and did those things as often as she could. Miss Yvonne always knew how to have a good time, and being a caregiver wasn’t going to change that. She even had a group of friends who loved taking annual cruises to the Caribbean with her. She grew up connected, and stayed connected, no matter what challenge life threw her way. For Miss Yvonne, caregiving wasn’t a burden. It was an honor.
As for me, I was exhausted. The joy and grace I wanted and needed seemed to elude me. Miss Yvonne, however, manifested an unparalleled grace. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up. When this would happen, I couldn’t say.
When my mother passed away, Miss Yvonne was right there to support and encourage me. How did she do it? How could she do it? Where was her reserve and how could she give so much when she was already giving so much? A year later, with her support and encouragement, I would launch The Caregiver’s Guardian, LLC (TCG). Six months later, I was at the hospital with Miss Yvonne when her brother died. She was grieving his loss and was not prepared for his transition. Even after caring for him day in and day out for twelve years, she was not ready for him to be gone. There was no solace for Miss Yvonne. Her brother’s funeral would be the first of many TCG would assist in coordinating.
I would visit Miss Yvonne and her mom regularly after her brother’s death. Seven months later, I would call and learn Miss Lilly had passed unexpectedly. Again, I would help Miss Yvonne coordinate a funeral for a loved one.
I am humbled by role models with character such as Miss Yvonne’s. I could not imagine handling the loss of two people, two people I loved and cared for and lost in such close proximity to each other. Miss Yvonne exemplifed grace under fire and did so with a regal dignity. She honors her loved ones’ memories and knows she did everything she could for them while they were alive. With regard to their deaths, she said, “Yes, I miss them dearly, but there are no regrets.” She had given her all in love and caring, and she was satisfied.
I learned so much from Miss Yvonne. She has become both a mentor and mother figure to me. She embodies the very essence of who I aspire to be with her loving spirit, calm nature and incredible sense of knowing. The lessons I’ve learned from her about positive attitude and love are lessons I share with all of my clients.
Though all these things are vital, they aren’t all you need to succeed as a caregiver. Miss Yvonne also took care of the fiduciary and legal responsibilities for her mother and brother. She understood recognition of the task included responsibility for the administrative duties as well. The task of getting the paper work in order is a vital one for everyone, not just for caregivers. We should all insure that our affairs are in order.
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