A Caregivers Day:This Wasn’t the Plan


by Elissa Lewin~Caregivers, what do you do when the plans for the day (or the year, or your life) go completely out the window? Fuss about it? Make sure everyone knows this wasn’t what you had in mind? Spend the day (or the year, or your life) in a funk because this is not what you wanted to have happen?

I know a lot of people who take that approach. I don’t know how they got so lucky as to reach this point in life without learning that our plans and intentions often have little bearing on what actually happens. Caregivers, at least the ones who have learned how to live happily, are not among this group.

Caregivers learn, at some point, that what we want or plan or hope for is not always what happens. Whether it is as small as not getting out for an evening because the home care person couldn’t make it or as large and enduring as the unexpected outcome of a pregnancy, not having the plan come together becomes part of daily life. The question is, how do you cope with it?

I am thinking about this today because it is a friend’s anniversary. She and her husband have been married for eight years. The last five have been with him having ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Despite the constant creep of decline of his physical abilities, theirs is a true love story. Every day he is alive is a day they are committed to the passion of living.

What is it that allows some people to cope better than others? What is it that allows us to accept what we did not plan for, make it our own, and still find happiness? Dr. Al Seibert, author of The Resiliency Advantage, suggests three elements that make the difference:
“Resilient survivors find meaning, purpose, and value in difficult circumstances.” The
question to ask is, “What does this opportunity give me that I would not get any other way?” It
could be the chance to heal a relationship, to work together on a project, to learn something you
might not otherwise had the chance to explore. There is some way that this event can help you grow; look for it.

“We humans are born with the ability to be made better by life’s difficulties” Adversity can build character, give wisdom, build compassion. It is in the challenge of managing and overcoming that adversity, conquering our fears, and coming out the other side that we grow.

“Accept and embrace what life has handed you.” What I have seen in all the guests who have
come to Nancy’s House is that those who can do this best are the ones who are happiest. It is not that they start off with this acceptance. That comes with work and effort. In the case of the couple celebrating their anniversary, it is a matter of putting Buddhist philosophy into practice every day, to trust that things are as they should be and to take joy in the moment; all things pass.

Resilience seems to be the quality that makes the difference between stress and burden. Stress is unavoidable in caregiving; there are demands and life-threatening events that happen. But burden, the weight that you feel as a result of that stress, is the emotional albatross that hangs on you. To ease that actually improves the ability to deal with the stress.

Dr. Barry Jacobs, in Enhancing Resilience in Caregivers, talks about the importance of flexibility, the ability to adapt, and connection with others as important elements.

Some of us are born with resilience as a personality trait. Some of us need to practice trusting others to help, developing a Plan B, finding the one positive note. The good news is that resilience can be nurtured and developed.

Resilience is kind of like white-water rafting. We can’t control the river or the rapids, but, if we stay present and mindful, use the skills we have to the best of our ability, know that there are others in the raft to help, it can be a heck of a ride. Some parts might even be fun. But, either way, at the end, we know we have accomplished something big.

Happy Anniversary to my friends.

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About Elissa Lewin

Elissa Lewin is a Licensed Psychologist and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has maintained a private practice outside of Philadelphia for 25 years. Her own experience as a caregiver led to her founding Nancy’s House, a comprehensive respite program for family caregivers. www.nancy's-house.org

One thought on “A Caregivers Day:This Wasn’t the Plan

  1. Paula Susan

    Wonderful, insightful, compassionate article filled with the kind of wisdom that could help sustain those with non-ending care-giving. I am passing this along. thank you.

    Paula Susan


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