“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar…
“I --- I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied rather shyly,
“at least I know who I was when I got up this morning,
but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
-Lewis Carroll, Adventures in Wonderland
This quote popped into my mind as I thought about how to answer the question “how does one become a care partner?” For me, the transition to becoming a care partner was such that I hadn’t recognized it. Not until my father’s Hospice Nurse named me as such (which is an entirely different blog). So my first response would be that one can’t become a care partner.
Of course there are ways to become a professional caregiver and even educational and support opportunities that enable nonprofessionals to become adept at caregiving. But I don’t think you can become a care partner until someone you love, and want to rise to the occasion for, has need of care. Perhaps that is the most simple way to answer this question - you become a care partner when someone provides the opportunity for you to partner in their care.
Within many if not all of us are the attributes of being a caring partner. Much like a volcano, it takes a seismic shift for a passageway to open up where these attributes (at times, lava-hot emotions) first see the light of day. Voila, a care partner has erupted. In my case, it was my father’s diagnosis that created the path for me to step into the role of care partner. Again, it was nothing I did or a transformation to something I became. I just was because it was needed and I could do it.
As I think this through I’ve realized that what I’ve written, as I believe it, is that you can’t become a care partner on your own but within you are attributes of being a care partner. Then, unexpectedly or slowly, as you evaluate your relationship with a loved one or even reflect on where you are spending your time and energy, you realize that you have become a care partner.
In that case, I wonder if the better question is “how can I show up as a care partner?” I love this question, by the way. Within all of us are individual strengths, whether it’s emotionally, intellectually or even physically, that will serve us well as a care partner. It’s a matter of thinking through these skills and talking with your loved one about what type of care they think they might need.
Through such conversations (and I remind you that these should be happening often as care needs change, sometimes daily) we can identify how to be the best care partner in that moment, for the near term, and long term. There is also the opportunity to determine who would be the best care partner in that moment, near or long term. After all, each of us is unique and brings different skills to the table. We have different demands of our own time that should be worked with.
Care partners wear many different hats and there are wonderful opportunities within each hat-type to refine your strengths and skills to specifically meet the needs within your care partnership. What I also find amazing is the abundance of resources available to meet all learning styles. For example, financial care partners might find the information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau helpful; Active Daily Living’s website has a library of quick tip videos to help those care partners providing more physical support; This Caregiver’s Life is a podcast that shares the amazing and every day stories of being a caregiver which provides comfort and encouragement to those of us who can feel so alone as we care for a loved-one; and, of course, there are online and in person classes for those who learn better in a more academic setting -- Oregon Care Partners in my home state is a good example.
How you show up as a care partner - how you equip yourself to nuance your personal skills so that you feel better equipped to face the challenges specific to caregiving for a loved one who is ailing or aging - is the first step in becoming the type of care partner you wish to be.
And beyond that, the ever changing nature of caregiving, and the diverse types of caregiving activities and the associated skills need to do them well require the ability to transition not just year to year, month to month, or day to day, but moment by moment,
Which leads us back to Alice in Wonderland. Alice awoke one morning as someone’s little girl. Throughout her journey down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland she became many things in many situations in response to the needs, desires and actions of those around her. Did she become something new? I think not. I think she showed what was already in her and that just may be the right answer to the question “how do I become a care partner?”
We're in this together...