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Dad Diaries: Caregiving as Training Wheels for Patience

Patience. The concept challenges me so much that I had to buy a book to understand it.

The Great Depression humorist, Arnold Glasow is quoted saying, “The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

Oh, my long departed friend, you are so correct.

The same is true when working with an adult parent who has suffered a life-, and brain-altering, illness or injury. The nuances of patience that being a caregiver, and advocate, requires is staggering.

Without warning, many of us go from being the adult child to being the child parent of our parents.

Every day, I am in awe of the patience that nurses, aides, therapists and other healthcare professionals have for working with patients who have physical, mental and emotional challenges.

What I noticed, as my father takes each step towards greater strength and independence, is that, as he gains physical strength, mental understanding doesn’t always keep pace.

So, I find myself in a situation where I’ve got a pretty big guy with the strength to do more of what he wants. And, sometimes, that want is the complete opposite of what’s safe or in his best interest (or what I want him to do).

While I can slow down and take 90 minutes to help him with his dinner, and I can spend 30 minutes playing an iPad game that a toddler could blow through in 10 minutes, I struggle with patience when it comes to communication.

Although I know that my dad has new challenges, I’m still expecting more of the “old” dad. The man who flew airplanes, ran a backhoe, designed and built an office building, and was an air traffic controller in the Air Force.

The book that I bought is called “The Power of Patience“. It’s an ironic title because when I need patience most is just the time when I feel powerless. I’ve gotten to the point where my little book, by M.J. Ryan, has become a touchstone (or, better yet, worry stone) that I carry in my purse like a first aid kit.

Here are the best gems that have helped me in these trying days of balancing being supportive daughter, dutiful caregiver and tough overseer:

1. Patience is a decision. It doesn’t feel like it, but we are reminded that “patience is a decision we make, a choice we take, again and again. And the more we recognize patience as a decision, the more we are free to make it.”  When I can make the teeniest of spaces between a problem and myself, I can insert a seed for patience to grow. I can’t make a decision if I’m on auto-pilot. The good ‘ole wisdom to count to 10 has real value in turning patience from a character trait and into a proactive choice I make for myself.

2. Patience is a tool to avoid anger. My book companion reminds me that there is a very short path from irritation to anger and that patience is the off ramp to a more serene destination. For a type “A” person like myself, patience takes effort at times. And, when working off of a serious lack of sleep and additional stressors, my patience power is waning. The author points us to a better direction with patience. “The more patience we have, the less irritation, anger and rage we’ll experience.” For me, the trigger to be acutely aware of is when irritation strikes like a match. Patience is the way to keep the match from lighting a fire and wasting our precious energy on anger.

3. Impatience is evidence of fear. Whew…this one hits deep. When we feel impatience, we are invited to stop and as, “Hey, what are you so afraid of?” With my dad, the impatience I feel when he calls me on a Sunday at 6:15 am to tell me to pick him up and “get me outta here” IS really fear. I’m afraid that this is the type of conversations my dad and I will continue to have. My fear is that he won’t improve enough to have fully, rational and logical discussions around big topics that loom on the horizon of eldercare.

Whether you are on the care-giving or care-receiving end of patience, it’s critical to one’s health. Anger, powerlessness and fear are three killer emotions that can erode confidence, relationships and our ability to think and reason clearly.

What are your tips for finding patience in the face of your illness or the illness of someone you love? What triggers your impatience? And, what techniques do you use to regain your “center”? Join us and share your ideas.

About @susanharkema

Susan is the creator of MyHealthVoice.com, built upon her 20+ years in healthcare and her experiences as a caregiver and patient. She is a writer, speaker and advocate for people living with chronic or life limiting illness as well as their family and professional caregivers. Learn more - www.myhealthvoice/susanharkema/.

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  1. Your newest blog about your dad filled my mind of memories after my mom’s TIA’s and later major strokes. Yes, patience is all that you perceive it is – my experience is parallel. The learning was for me. I learned so much from the caregiving experience – not that I wanted to! The impatient voice in my head said, “mom, for pete’s sake, let’s just get you outta bed, outta this place and GO SHOPPING! Something normal. Caregiving to my mom was NOT going to be my new normal. Except that it already was. I found patience because I had to. I slowed down to be in the moment…for her…certainly not for me. I just wanted to go downtown to Kaufmanns for bittersweet chocolate sundaes and shopping, like always. Patience cleared my head, made me take a deep breath, and enabled me to move down the road, on life’s journey.

    • Thank you, Becky, for your thoughtful post. There are two themes that we can learn from your story. First, that by the time we realize that we are officially a caregiver, we’ve been one for a while. All of a sudden, our awareness of our changing relationship catches up with reality. Also, I take away the knowledge that as we adapt to this major shift, like any major life change, we do better in caring for ourselves and others when we stop and breathe and face this new situation with resolve and patience rather than resignation or anger.

  2. Just to let you know. As an RNi it was SO much easier to be patient to my patients. Because at the end of the day, you go home and you’re no longer responsible. Taking care of your own parent is by far harder BY FAR more challenging. At least for me…constantly pushing my buttons and having memories and flashbacks of not so good times. Maybe it’s not that way for everyone…i hope not

    • Thank you, Lucinda, for your comment. As a nursing professional you have a unique perspective. And, it’s helpful for caregivers, like me, to hear that you face the same challenges. Hope you enjoy the site and share more.

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