In the Disney movie, “Enchanted,” Amy Adams plays a fairy tale princess who becomes trapped in the real world in New York City. She decides to pitch in and help the family that has taken her in by calling the local animals together to sing “A Happy Working Song.” Of course in New York, the local animals are rats, pigeons and cockroaches. Startled, she acknowledges that it’s always good to make new friends and they sing their happy song as they clean up.
We don’t often talk about the happiest aspects of caregiving, but many caregivers wake up from their fairy tale life to find out they have entered the world of caregiving – and they’re still happy. So what does Caregiving the Musical look like?
I was talking to a caregiver who described his father as the man who went to the nursing home every day to pick up his wife’s laundry and make sure it was clean, to visit her during lunch, and make sure that she was well cared for – barely missing a day in her 3-year stay.
This steady, dependable rhythm of the caregiver going about his daily tasks is the beat that allows the person being cared for to feel safe. It is the way caregivers continue to find meaning and involvement with their loved one. That continued relationship with its occasional hug or kiss is the music in their lives – it is their reward.
I think about the caregiver who is taking care of her husband after a catastrophic accident that has left him quadriplegic with a brain injury. She is learning all of the new steps in caring for a person who has lost so much. With the team of doctors and nurses, she orchestrates his care – moving from one person to the next to ensure that the man who can’t speak for himself has a voice. It is a complicated dance, but it never occurs to her to do anything less.
And in the final act, the caregiver whose husband has had a long, slow decline with terminal cancer realizes this is a chapter in her life that is closing. A new one will soon begin for her, but for now she can be thankful for the good years, for the good man, and for the good opportunity she has to say good bye. Not everyone has this opportunity and she feels like this time has been a blessing.
Every day, caregivers give a part of themselves because they have gotten so much from their loved one in the past and they find that they are still receiving something back. Although they are uncomfortably surprised at their new surroundings, they are willing to make new friends with these strange characters who inhabit this new caregiving world. And even though everything is a mess, they hum a little happy working song that makes them feel good about the amazing things they have accomplished since they left the fairy tale behind.
Guest blog post by Carol Zernial, Executive Director of WellMed Charitable Foundation. The WellMed Charitable Foundation supports seniors and their caregivers in our community with a special emphasis on wellness, prevention, and living with chronic illness. In the past two years, the WellMed Charitable Foundation has contributed more than $3 million to the community. It is the philanthropic partner of the WellMed Medical Group Inc. headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. Learn more at www.wellmedcharitablefoundation.org.