On 9 January 2009, the cancer site of Cancerstory.com became dormant.
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Art transforms into compassion

Be a happy caregiver by choice

If you offer to be the caregiver to a loved one who is ill or to elderly parents and grandparents, it is your very own choice. Your CHOICE cannot go wrong if you constantly live with a loving heart - remembering the love and kindness of your loved ones. Indeed, it is a feat greater than climbing Mount Everest - braving oneself against the uphill task that can often drain one's energy, leaving one depressed and demoralized. Nevertheless, it is a priceless lesson for caregivers - experiencing the true challenge of life and becoming 'privileged' individuals who are not fearful of facing their own mortality.

During those days when I accompanied my late mother to the hospital and cancer centre, some caregivers shared their experiences with me.

In one instance, an attendant working in a cancer centre shared with me that she had just started to work after her mother's death. Before, she had been asked to resign from her job to look after her late mother, a stroke victim, as she is single and earned the least income in her family. Most commendably, she accepted the arrangement made by her siblings without resentment. She is a happy caregiver by choice.

On another occasion, a housewife commented that her cancer-stricken mother had chosen her to be the caregiver as both her brothers are working and her mother did not want to bother them. She reluctantly accepted her mother's decision. She is a caregiver that is 'hand-picked' and given no choice.

Ideally, children should share the responsibility of looking after their parents. Sadly, some people are ungrateful, selfish and unkind. It is time for these people to do some soul searching - besides chasing after the materialistic 5Cs, how about practicing the following humane 5Cs :

  • Conscience
  • Compassion
  • Care
  • Consideration
  • Co-operation

Very often, most people do not realize their flaws until they are struck by illness and misfortune - the rude wake-up call, leaving them with regrets. In good times, perhaps, only their religious leaders can convince them to fulfill their duty of serving their parents.

Certainly, it is not an easy task. Even a caregiver by choice might feel resentful and drained after some time. I would like to share the following write-up extracted from the book "Coping with Long-term Illness", using it to motivate caregivers to 'fight on' :

A common problem that can arise in families is that one person feels they are shouldering too much responsibility of caring while others are shirking their duty. It can be annoying if you feel you are putting yourself out to care for a family member while a sibling or someone else in the family does not seem to be doing their 'fair share'.

But this can be an unhelpful way to look at the situation. Being a caregiver is such a personal decision that it is not helpful to think in terms of what is fair and what is not. It is best to concentrate only on what you can do and do what feels comfortable for you. Refuse to allow yourself to be drawn into judging someone else's contribution and you will save yourself a lot of heartache.

Yes, it is hard, and there will be times when you are tired and fed up, when you feel annoyed that someone else in the family seems content to do that bare minimum or uses the lamest excuse not to do the smallest good deed. But getting upset or having an argument about it probably will not change a thing, and will just add to the stress you are under. Their motives for not helping may be that they just cannot cope emotionally. Or it may be that they are lazy or uncaring. They may be good at simply saying no, whereas you always end up saying 'yes' even though you would rather refuse! Or they may use the excuse of being too busy, living too far away, analyzing and fretting about their reasons will not make you feel any better. The best plan is to decide that you will do what you feel able to do, no more and no less. Others will have to make - and live with - their own decision.

If you are looking after someone who is terminally ill, my heart goes out to you. Make sure you get the help and support you need. Talk to someone about how you feel. Be gentle on yourself, especially if you are finding it hard.

Take a break

Caregivers are encouraged to take regular respite in order to give themselves a chance to re-charge and avoid burn out.

Caregivers can fall back on respite care whenever circumstances warrant it. For more information, please login into www.caregivers.org.sg

Updated on 15 January 2005

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