As I was walking the dog yesterday, lost in thought, contemplating life's situations, I almost missed a glorious sight. In the Mid-West spring landscape, it was barely visible. I thought at first that I was mistaken. There, in all its splendor, was a Little Blue Heron, standing tall at the edge of the little pond. Don't herons migrate? Don't they try to escape the long, hard winters?
And that's when I realized my mistake. I assumed to know about the blue heron because I know about some other birds. I lumped the blue heron in with all birds and made presumptions about its migratory behavior based on what I thought made the most sense.
When you are a caregiver, it's easy to plow through situations with the idea that because you know this or that, you also know things with which you have no familiarity. It's easy to think it's okay to connect the dots because you have past experience.
The truth is that as a caregiver, your role is ever-changing, because the needs of your loved one over time will change. Some people get healthy enough to resume their old lives. Some people manage their illnesses in ways that allow them to function fairly normally. Other people deteriorate over time.
If you are caring for someone who has a life-limiting illness, it's important to understand that as things progress, you must progress with them. You must understand the disease in its various stages in order to provide the best care for your loved one. The needs of a cancer patient at Stage 1 are vastly different than the needs of one at Stage 3 or 4. The early stages of Alzheimer's and other dementias present very different behaviors than later ones. Some people with ALS have quality of life for a long period, but can suddenly decline. If you don't expect the changes, they can have a profound effect on your ability to provide care to your loved one.
Life has a way of presenting us with surprises along the road. The more we pay attention to the subtle landscape, the more we discover. I might have missed that little blue heron the other day, but because I love to walk and because I force myself to see something new each time I set foot out the door, I was lucky enough to enjoy it. Putting your mind on automatic pilot and not leaving room to see the details of the care you provide means you are less likely to spot the tiny cracks in the dam before it breaks. Family caregivers who pay attention to their loved ones don't just find problems. They also find the connections that tie us together as families. Those ties that bind us together are also what give us strength and comfort when the going gets rough. They are the winds that fill our sails. If we know how to navigate the family ship properly, the journey is made better.