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Rethinking the Words Family, Care, and Partner

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2020 has been quite the year.  Yes, this is an overstated understatement.  I am not the first person to try to write through my evolving grief in the hopes of making sense of all that is happening, has happened and could happen.  In the last week I have watched as places that I grew up have burned beyond recognition, erasing whole family histories and livelihoods.  

As I think about the ways in which I would like to show up for my friends during this time - helping them to comprehend what has occurred, facing the changes the loss will initiate, and putting back together the foundational pieces of life so that one can continuing moving forward - I know that it’s only the latter that I can be a party to.

And it’s the latter that many individuals search for when looking for a professional to support them when they find themselves caring for a loved one.  I was not surprised that these three terms are often combined in Google searches:  family  care  partner.

“My family is in transition…”, “I don’t know how to provide the best level of care for my Dad…”, “I just need someone to partner with me to help me understand my role and the decisions I need to make…”

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For me, I wanted someone who was detached from the emotional journey to put that steadying hand on my shoulder and point me in the right direction while allowing me to look backwards over my shoulder at what was and is now gone.  I may be wrong, that may not be what thousands of people are searching for when they Google those search terms.

But that’s how I interpret the need for a family care partner.  That’s what I would have needed, had I the wherewithal to actually search for those terms.  What I did look for was guidance on what the path ahead looked like, advice on understanding my Dad’s financial affairs, perspective on why I was feeling so numb and irate all in the same moment, and so on.

What I’ve learned, even in the context of trying to support my friends who are still sifting through ashes is that there doesn’t need to be any one person who is the answer.  That within our “family” there were individuals who had access to others who’d walked a similar journey as the one we were facing and knew better than to “should” me.  Or they’d not been down this path either, but their education, experience or temperament made them the logical choice to turn to when faced with a specific decision.  

That led me to reevaluating the term family - it can be a restrictive word that becomes a barrier between an inner circle and an outer world.  So often I hear that people on the outside don’t want to intrude on what’s happening within a family unit.  So they remain quiet.  They give us space, when what we need is some semblance of normalcy and perhaps a forum outside that inner circle to question just what the heck is happening within it.  

Just as “family” should be looked at differently so should the term “care”.  Care is a term loaded with emotion.  But sometimes an act of caring is transactional and completely unrelated to physical assistance or emotional well-being.  It’s writing a check, placing a phone call or organizing something to get done for someone who is somehow blocked, most likely from emotion, from doing just that one thing. All of these demonstrate an act of friendship or love, but don’t add weight to the word “care”.

When searching for the terms -family care partner- I suspect what most individuals are looking for isn’t someone to insert themselves into the family unit who becomes a personality and emotional force to orbit around and ultimately care for.  I believe what is most often sought after is embedded in the word “partner”. 

A partner anticipates situations and supports reactions, they offer a counter perspective and an assurance to decisions.  A partner doesn’t lead or expect you to follow.  They walk, shoulder to shoulder, sometimes nudging your steps in one direction or another, but in no way a force to be reckoned, a barrier to knowledge or another obligation to carry.

Since founding Caregiven I have been honored to meet these individuals - some have titles that include coordinator, navigator, doula, coach, etc.  They also bear titles such as friend, brother, co-worker, cousin, neighbor, Dad’s golf buddy’s ex-wife, etc.  These individuals can be your partner in care while your family is in transition just as well as someone you hire.  

Often I feel it’s easier for me to reach externally to a professional, that outsider who can come in and overlook the dust and debris in the house or from our family.  But when I think about it, and think about the family I have, the partners in my life, and the acts of caring that we need to give and receive, I believe that family care partners are all around me.  

Through the smoke filled haze of these last few days, I am able to better see what I can give to others, those friends and families who are caring for a loved one.  It only took rethinking the different attributes I thought they needed in order to see how I could help.  And with that, I truly believe that we all have the family care partners in our lives.

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