The people we interviewed expressed a range of feelings and experiences, from negative to positive. We asked them to elaborate on the positive aspects and share any life lessons from their experiences as caregivers. In this topic page, we present some of the life lessons that caregivers shared with us, as well as the different ways that they felt appreciated. In all of these cases, caregivers presented their stories as important contributions to their own growth and transformation as better human beings.
Marc said, “Life brings you on paths and whatever happens, you will have given the best of yourself. You will be proud of what you have done for someone on this planet.”
Life was never meant to be easy. So nobody’s going to hand you a platter with a bunch of, a book that says this is how you deal with life. It doesn’t work that way. You will always be learning throughout your life. There’s never a mistake. It’s a learning experience. So when something happens, dive in. And you can always say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know” or, “I didn’t know to do it that way.
Oh boy. The life lesson is that you’ve really never got your life figured out because , all of a sudden, you have—what is this saying that I’ve always lived by?…I know I’m going to forget it, but it’s about what you had planned. In order to live the life that you have planned, you have to give up those things because now, all of a sudden, you’ve got this in your life.
Well, there’s a place inside of yourself, in the sense of your own self worth, to be able to address a need that’s out there—and such a critical need. Often this isn’t just making soup for somebody because they’ve broken their leg and they can’t cook right now, right. I think the most important one is learning compassion. Especially, I think for me, around 2 things: partially the dementia and the compassion allowing or helping you to listen through the actual words—what’s the message behind it? What’s the real need that’s happening at this point? Because you can’t argue things out, and you can’t convince people who have dementia, right? It just doesn’t work. So you kind of have to just keep in yourself going, “Okay, what’s behind this? Where is the real need and how can I meet that need?”
And […] there’s another part of that compassion for me as well. It has to do with empathy. I mean, I really love the word compassion because it means together in passion, right? And so, you’re stepping into a place where you’re sharing what is passionate for somebody else. And in a caregiving situation, I mean, sometimes that would be around really joyous things—children and grandchildren and, and whatever that person’s particular passions were—but a lot of the time it is around their fear. The passion around their fear, their hopes for their lives that have been removed, have been taken away by their illness.
Yeah, and for me that’s the most important thing—of being able to sort of walk into that place as much as possible with them and understand what the need is behind it […] and—maybe if it’s a sort of funny thing to say—is the best part of it. But I think, especially in this situation because our caregiving person is not somebody that I was a personal friend with, what I benefit from in doing this is my own growth and compassion.
Several caregivers learned that it is okay to take time to care for themselves. Marlyn said, “That certainly was a big realization, that I had to be responsible for not only looking after myself, but for thinking of myself and being willing to say, “No, I won’t do that,’ which is not necessarily a natural thing that most spouses would say if all along they’ve been very sort of cooperative and helpful with each other.” Marc learned something similar and said, “Taking care of oneself, this is essential. This is a second lesson. Because when you don’t take care of yourself, you falter, and you can’t help the other person.”
I think my mom is really lucky to have someone like me, who’s so devoted to her. I think sometimes she realizes that, and she tells me she appreciates it, but I look ahead to myself when I’m her age and I’m thinking, “Wow, what’s my situation going to be?”, which makes me think.
It’s okay to say no. I’ve read a lot of books about [caregiving], and that’s one of the books I read actually, It’s Okay to Say No. Everything comes in stages.
Several caregivers spoke about the things they had learned from caregiving. Many caregivers mentioned they had learned to let go. For example, Joseph said, “Letting go helps me a lot. It is someone else’s life, not mine and, yes I can be of service, but … I don’t have all the answers.” Being a caregiver deepened several people’s understanding of emotions and appreciation of other people’s experiences. Shayna said, “You shouldn’t judge until you’ve not only walked in their position but followed the footsteps.”
Some caregivers had to work on improving their patience.
A life lesson? Good heavens. I don’t know it yet. I’m sure there are some life lessons there but… I guess I’m working on my patience. I have, I have good patience for certain things, like for example, if I’m doing a painting and I need to spend a whole bunch of hours drawing details or painting details, I can do that. But, when getting somebody dressed or taking care of somebody physically, I’m not always good at it. So, I guess that’s part of a lesson that I need to learn. That sounds kind of mundane but it’s the best I can come up with. I think the life lessons will come up later, but it hasn’t hit me in the face yet.
Several caregivers described how they learned to put their negative thinking aside. Others also spoke about their own growth in compassion, empathy, and serenity. Some caregivers described how it had helped them to mature or to make them stronger. Despite the positive effects, Shayna said, “I think I am a better person, but I would go back in a second. Caregiving is very difficult, very self-denying.”
Oh life lesson? Be very happy, be positive. I’m always happy. People say, “You laugh a lot,” and I say, “Why should I cry?” […] I think, be happy, make others happy, give back to the society, because somebody helps you when you need help. Somebody [is] always there, right? And we should also try to give back to the society when others need help. So whatever little we can do.
Many caregivers appreciated the fact that they were able to do something good for someone else, creating a sense of fulfillment, pride or happiness.
It’s the greatest gift you can give to another human being. To give yourself, to give your life for another person. Like I said, there are some people who are so selfish or they are so needy themselves they could never carry out this task. Caregivers are tough, and you better believe it. We’re very tough people, we’re fierce, we’re warriors.
In almost all the cases that I’ve done caregiving, and it’s been a fair number of them by this time, there has been an incredible amount of joy.
Well, sure. It is very rewarding. Rewarding means that when you see the progress that the patient is making, right? Well, that’s very rewarding. Of course, it’s mainly on medication or the system, but [also] how the family or caregiver have helped the patient. You can see the signs on the patient’s face.
Well, it might keep me from having Alzheimer’s. No, not really. No, but only the positive aspects, it’s that it… I can tell you one thing, caring for my daughter, it has kept me from ageing. It didn’t force me to age; it kept me from ageing. I have that impression. Because I’m taking care of her, I don’t have the time to think that I’m getting older, or whatever. I don’t have time.
Developing a close connection with my mom. I think we have a bond. I think it can be unhelpful at times, but I’ve been lucky to develop the relationship that I have had with her, and it wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t the way that it is. I also feel lucky that I appreciate her so much because I feel like every day could be her last day on the planet.
The most positive experience of this whole caregiving experience was the fact that I had a really close relationship with my dad, and with my mom.