Caregivers often repeatedly find themselves lost and disoriented in what I call the FOG of caregiving—fear, obligation, and guilt.
From feeling guilty over bringing a child with special needs into the world, to living in abject fear of an out-of-control family member, to deep resentment from feeling obligated to someone with special needs — the scenarios are numerous but the core issues remain the same.
The relentless onslaught of caregiving magnifies all those feelings and can take caregivers into bad places.
Earlier this year in Dickson, Joseph Ray Daniels confessed to murdering his son, “Baby Joe” who, according to The Tennessean, was autistic and non-verbal.
At first, Daniels told authorities that his son wandered off. Elopement is one of the regular nightmare scenarios of autism families. Daniels’ behavior added even greater horror to that nightmare.
Sadly, this will not be the last such event capturing headlines. Caregiving requires a level of service and responsibility that find many unprepared, and others, tragically, unwilling to accept.
Even for those who embrace the challenges, however, the caregiver FOG isolates, and in that isolation, dark thoughts can overtake a caregiver. If left unaddressed, dark thoughts can fester into horrifying choices.
Family, friends, clergy, and co-workers can still speak into a caregiver’s isolation. Asking if they are in touch with support groups, seeing their doctor regularly, attending church services, talking to a counselor are all worthwhile and specific questions to ask.
Often, a simple awareness of the difficulties can be a source of enormous comfort to a caregiver. Noticing the person pushing the wheelchair, caring for the special needs child, or sitting for endless nights in a hospital room corner—penetrates the isolating thoughts and communicates care and value to the caregiver.
As caregivers, our whole worlds often orbit around a loved one we attend. Yet, we must carve out a healthy identity of our own—regardless of the needs and path of our loved ones.
Sadly, all too many caregivers recoil with guilt at the thought of addressing their own needs. If those needs aren't addressed, however, they will manifest themselves in destructive ways and behaviors.
Some issues, such as excessive weight gain, unfold over time, yet others tragically erupt and make the headlines. Unraveling those destructive behaviors requires compassion, wisdom, and work.
Caregivers may disregard all efforts of help. But by speaking into that isolation with clarity and offering a well-lit path to safety, that caregiver, the family, and the impaired loved one can at least have a fighting chance.
We never know how important a specific and thoughtful word can be to a desperate person. To a family caregiver holding on to their last known scrap of hope, caring words spoken into their darkness could be enough light to see a road to help.
Peter Rosenberger is host of a weekly syndicated radio program Hope for the Caregiver (see American Family Radio for times and stations near you), author of "Hope for the Caregiver," and president of Standing With Hope. He has served as a caregiver for his wife Gracie, who has lived with severe disabilities for more than 30 years. They live in Nashville.