Covenants. We make them all the time. From pinky swears to wedding vows, we earnestly commit ourselves to do, or not do, certain things. Many caregivers make THE PROMISE. “I promise I will never put you in a nursing home.”
Thousands of caregivers make this promise because of cultural factors besides love.
- We expect family life to be messy. We take the “terrible twos,” the teen years, or rallying around a family member in crisis, in stride. It’s what families do. That’s our culture.
So when a loved one needs help to remain at home, adult children or spouses view caring for them as a normal response. It is part of the life cycle. It’s what we do. “My mom/dad/spouse took care of me. Now it’s my turn,” says almost every caregiver. (In another blog I will unpack that pregnant statement.)
- Our health care system today is lopsided. We save and extend lives that we couldn’t decades ago. Now people live for years with conditions that would have killed them within a few months or a year. My grandfather died in 1963 within months from complications of his stroke.
- Yet the very health care system that prolongs life offers little to provide care for the very people it saved. Long term, chronic care falls on family caregivers. I believe the United States lags behind other industrialized nations in supporting long-term health care.
Caregiver to the Rescue
I’ve heard sons or daughters vow they will never put their parent in a nursing home. They often promise this before caregiving steals their health, freedom, peace of mind, even their jobs. Many don’t know what they are getting themselves into when they make that commitment.
In some cultures, it is unthinkable to put a loved one in a facility. Not ever. Period. However, in these same cultures, family members tend to work as a team, sharing the load, and thus make keeping the promise possible. This is unlike in our nuclear family system, where often the load falls on one person’s shoulders.
I don’t care if you are Florence Nightingale incarnate, you alone cannot give safe, effective care 24/7, day after day. And above all, care at home must be safe. Caregiver burnout is real and leads to health problems, even crises like strokes or abuse.
I understand our hesitancy in placing a loved one in an institution. Loss of control is a huge issue for the care receiver and the caregiver. The adage “there’s no place like home” is true… until it isn’t. When life at home is a struggle and unsafe, the promise becomes a curse.
I understand the sentiment. “As long as there’s breath in my body…”
But I never made that promise because I knew there could come a time when I could not give my loved one the care he needed and deserved. So I amended the words. “As long as I can care for you safely and well, I will do all I can to keep you home with me.”
That was a promise I knew I could (and did) keep.
Copyright 2023 Sue LeDoux