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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Sheppard

Caregiving Challenges During the Coronavirus Crisis

Caregiving can be a very lonely experience under the best of circumstances. With today’s world-wide Coronavirus crisis, the loneliness, fear, anxiety, sadness, helplessness, powerlessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration and so many other feelings, need to be acknowledged and supported in helpful ways.

As someone who cared for five different family members over a fifteen-year period (2009-2014), with  most of my caregiving and oversight of care being long-distance, with some near distance as well, the recent situations surrounding the Coronavirus brought back memories of my own challenges. For example, I flew often to see my family in need. Or, I drove long distances to visit. The recent cancellations of flights, for many families means that they cannot visit family members. Add to this, the need and mandate for “social distancing” --a necessary approach to limiting the spread of the virus, yet another impediment to connection with family in need and those in need not seeing their family or friends.

So, even if you could fly or drive to visit a loved one or friend in a care facility of any kind, you would not be allowed to visit.  Intellectually, we know and understand that this is for everyone’s health and safety, staff and patient alike, yet emotionally it has created a new challenge for caregivers, who already have many balls to juggle and, of course, feelings and physical stressors. This means that we need to find ways to stay connected for ourselves as caregivers and for those for whom we care.

Caregivers all over the world are coping with a myriad of issues surrounding the Coronavirus and its far-reaching effects. Social Distancing, although necessary during these circumstances, may be better described as physical distancing. Either way both lead to feelings of disconnection. Knowing that we are not alone, is a great place to start. When we cannot visit those for whom we care, and/or we have been asked to stay in place and follow social distancing protocol, impediments to connection are real and affect the caregiver, oftentimes a family member, and the person in need, both emotionally and physically.

Phones are an option for some, but not for all. Finding an aide, nurse or volunteer in the facility to help caregivers connect by phone is possible. I often had an aide hold a phone to my loved one’s ear, who because of stroke and physical impediments, or dementia/confusion needed assistance. For example, I could talk to my mom, who could understand what I said, but had deficits in expressive language and picking up the phone. For both of us, my mother hearing my voice and me knowing that she could hear me was comforting and healing. It wasn’t perfect, but it made a difference and created a moment of connection, something we as humans need to thrive.

One of my caregiving memories that surfaced this week was when I flew with my mom to take her back to her facility in Florida, following a visit with family in Michigan. The flight with my mom was on September 9, 2011. On September 10, I flew back to Michigan, almost missing my flight due to a delay. I reached the gate and ran down the jetway, just as they were shutting the door. I pleaded with the attendant to let me get on the plane, which was already away from the jetway on the tarmac. They did let me run out to the plane and board. The next morning, drinking my morning coffee in Michigan and watching the news, I saw the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

There are unknowns in life all the time. Once we know what we are facing we need to be able to ask for help when we need it, think outside the box, and as caregivers we need to take care of ourselves first, while making sure that we stay connected in any way possible with whomever houses our loved one in need, or whatever hospital they may be in.

Find an ally in the system and don’t be afraid to be persistent to connect with your loved one or friend. Yes, it can be hard not to get angry and frustrated, but if we can hold it together in order to request help in a civil way and then hit or scream into a pillow afterwards may be one way to meet with success. We can be creative with this, too!

Recently, a friend of mine creatively sent out a photo of her with her mom and asked that we send cards. This was a great way to keep connection going when visitations were ended. I am sure that many of you have some other great ideas. These are difficult times to be sure, but we’re all in this together. Connection where connection seems unattainable, just takes more thought and creativity. We can do this!!!

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