One of the biggest contributors to human sadness, I believe, is the sense that you’ve lost control.
We are, by nature, independent, constantly striving for freedom to manage the circumstances around us, and when we lose that freedom, it is a significant loss.
I have seen it affect young people, working adults and the elderly.
It can dominate an individual’s thinking to such an extent that it leads to high stress levels, resulting in depression, self-destructive behaviours or complete apathy.
We often attribute this loss of control to those who are ill or who are victims of some circumstance, but that is too narrow a definition.
In fact, the sense of losing control is just as common amongst those who care for others.
Professional and amateur caregivers alike must struggle with the notion that they are not able to turn back the clock or change the inevitable processes that affect their patients or loved ones.
When I was helping to care for my father near the end of his life, I desperately wanted to treat him normally, somehow enthuse him to fight the good fight against a disease that was marching on, and perhaps win that battle.
With each passing day, as he grew marginally weaker, I found myself fighting with my own feelings of inadequacy to impact on his health and, worse, projecting sadness in anticipation of an endpoint that seemed to loom larger each day.
A visiting nurse sensed my struggle at one point and simply said, “Your father is lucky to have you with him right now. I can tell he’s enjoying your company.”
That was it, of course, a reminder that the quality of life is driven by an appreciation for the things that we do, in fact, control.
When you think of it, there’s little we control about disease or the declining physical and mental elements of aging, although we can control our attitudes about them and we can make the most of the moments right in front of us.
And if there’s little we can control about our own health and aging processes, then there’s less we can control about that of others.
The best we can do is to take each day that we have and each choice within that day, to make things the best we can for them, and subsequently, for ourselves.
Professional caregivers learn, early in their careers, to accept loss as part of their daily routine, but the best ones also recognize the difference they make to others in whatever time they have with them. They are comforted by contribution rather than pained by loss.
Those who provide eldercare on their own need the support of other family members and reminders that, regardless of the inevitabilities of decline, their efforts towards controlling the quality of today are recognized and valued.
Understanding that this is, in fact, in their control, can make all the difference to the stress load they feel in serving the needs of others.
Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare (firstname.lastname@example.org).