This past weekend I was blessed to be able to attend the National Caregiving Conference held in Chicago. It was a fabulous, inspiring, informative and FUN 4-day event put on by Denise Brown of Caregiving.com. She is definitely the Hostess With The Mostest!
If you’ll remember, I was fortunate to win registration and hotel through a contest at Caregiving.com back in June. I was doubly fortunate that my two brothers stepped up and cared for Mom and Dad so I could get away for almost the entire conference, and not have to worry about their care or feel guilty about leaving my parents with strangers that would have been hired.
This was my first time attending this conference…and I hope it won’t be my last. It was a fantastic, nurturing and caring (of course!) atmosphere. It felt like everyone was just so happy to be able to leave the caregiving responsibilities and burdens at home (for the most part) and fully be able to exhale and be themself for however long they were able to sneak away.
There were some 60+ sessions offered over the 4-day event and I participated in 17 of them (though I would have like to be able to sit in on 15 of them!). Topics covered were about advocacy, end of life planning, coping strategies, how to find help, navigating the healthcare system, what’s next after caregiving, sprinkled with some original comedy and song!
The first take-away: I know that I am not the only person on this path of caring for a loved one(s), but I haven’t actually met many. This conference showed me that there are a lot of us – – – over 45 million is a number that was tossed around in several sessions – – – from all walks of life dealing with all kinds of health conditions and personalities of all ages. There were 24/7ers (like me), there were those who work full-time and help care part-time, there were those who provide support from a distance, there were those who care for their children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, siblings, spouses, even ex-spouses.
The second take-away: and this was a pretty big AHA! moment for me is that my parents truly are at end of their life and there is nothing I can do to change that. I can’t heal their conditions. They will never get better, no matter what I do. So, my role is not that of a Fixer, which is what I am accustomed to doing, but my role is to really make them as comfortable and happy as possible. So, no more research, no more lectures from me, no more trying to convince them they should do this or that. And actually, this new mindset is partially a relief. A relief that will also allow me to enjoy them before I am no longer able to.
A third take-away: How important it is to have at least a healthcare power of attorney plan no matter your age. My parents drew theirs up about 15 years ago. I haven’t created one…. yet. And I’ve already shared this insight with both of my daughters, who are in their 20s, and encouraged them to consider making one too. I believe my parents’ documents merely appoint someone to make the decisions, but there is no guidance as to their wishes. I get to start that conversation with them. And I learned that it is important to have the conversation each time a new (major) diagnosis occurs, which makes sense. IF my parents would have shared their wishes when they drafted their documents, I imagine their wishes would have been different than they will be today as their health condition(s) have changed dramatically over the years.
A fourth take-away: I was introduced to Denise Brown’s “6 Stagesof Caregiving” and recognized that I am currently an Entrenched caregiver. My life is fully consumed by my obligations and responsibilities as I help my parents. But I also learned that we all can always consider ourselves as Expectant caregivers in that we never know when a loved one will need our help, whether that is picking up groceries or driving them to a doctor appointment or providing companionship when they need it. I wasn’t expecting that!
I definitely came away with many more insights, but I’ll end here. All in all, probably the BEST thing about the conference was just being around others (a lot of others!!) who get it. When sharing experiences during sessions, heads were nodding in recognition before even 5 words were out of my mouth.
It was great to be heard. It was a miracle to feel understood. A true blessing, in and of itself! Honestly, it was quite a humbling experience.