I was reading an interview with Gail Sheehy in Today’s Caregiver magazine. In it, she talks about the caregiving journey being akin to navigating a labyrinth. When you make your way through a labyrinth, you must follow the path as it is presented to you, even it takes you forward and then suddenly reverses, taking you back several paces before veering off again. Sheehy talks about requiring patience and faith to reach the center. This can be spiritual faith or faith in nature, yourself, etc. Once you reach the center, think about the physical state of your loved one. Are they on the mend or are they declining? If it is the latter, Sheehy states that you need to accept that you and the loved one you are caring for are on two separate journeys. Their journey through the labyrinth will result in their departing this world soon, where as you must find the path back to your life. Sheehy warns of not sacrificing two lives for one, as she has seen many caregivers do who fail to take care of themselves during their caregiving period.
To me, the concept of a labyrinth perfectly describes the caregiving journey. We move forward, then a setback moves us backwards. We learn more the more time we spend on the caregiving journey. There are frustrations along with successful moves. Eventually, we all reach the same path that includes our exit from this world, but as caregivers we have to recognize that we can only go so far down that path with our loved ones.
Sheehy also discusses the crisis points that caregivers experience and how they can better manage these stages. Sheehy stresses that caregiving should never be a solitary journey; to protect your own health you need to form a circle of care to support you. Easier said than done for many of us, but I think Sheehy’s ideas should receive widespread adoption and community resources should be directed towards these concepts.