Caregivers may need to be encouraged to maintain a social life
by Isabel Fawcett
RSVP at Thanksgiving
Years ago, one of my cherished friends invited me to her home for Thanksgiving Day celebration with her and her mother. I readily and excitedly accepted the invitation. I knew how much our mothers shared in common, including a lifetime profession. Though older than my friend's mother, my mom was reasonably close in age. Our mothers viewed each other as generational contemporaries and enjoyed mutual admiration.
Reality of Chronic Health Issues
When Thanksgiving Day rolled around, my caregiver's heart understood that my mom was not physically up to going anywhere. She had been awake the night before with chronic pain. As she has always said and meant, she encouraged me to go enjoy myself and send her love and regrets. I, on the other hand, would not leave my mom alone on Thanksgiving Day, much less feeling as sick as she did that year.
I did not I look forward to declining my friend's dinner invitation at the last minute knowing how much effort goes in to inviting guests to one's home for a special holiday. Neither did I look forward to thinking about what to cook on Thanksgiving Day at the last minute, but so life goes. Life happens and caregivers simply roll with the punches.
As my mom's health has declined slowly over the years, I remain sensitive that not every day is equal when an individual has chronic illnesses. The unpredictability of physical, emotional, or cognitive symptoms is undeniable if one's body is not at optimum, or at least a stable level of performance. Someone who is chronically ill may look forward to socializing with others one minute, yet not have the physical stamina to lift a muscle when recurring symptoms such as physical pain make cameo appearances. Sometimes it is difficult for a caregiver to convey sudden changes in plans if there is a possibility that the rejection may be taken personally by someone kind enough to extend a social invitation.
Reasons For Declining RSVP's
My holiday scenario is merely one of many reasons some caregivers may choose or need to respectfully decline social invitations. Other reasons may include:
- Fear of uncertain outcomes, including sudden onset or escalation of physical symptoms, lack of memory recall in conversations or with once-familiar faces and more
- Shame or fear of having a loved one judged, misunderstood, or worse, patronized in some social settings
- Ostracizing or exclusionary behaviors toward chronically ill elders in a manner which serves to reinforce social isolation of mature adults and/or their caregivers
- Lacking availability of comfortable seating accommodations such as elevated seating for a disabled individual who may have difficulty and chronic pain sitting on, or standing from a lower level;
- Betrayal of human dignity, including as explained below
- Insensitive invasions of medical privacy by well-meaning individuals who ask medically invasive and overly personal questions of a caregiver and/or his or her loved one(s.)
RSVP's notwithstanding--plans can suddenly change.
Those kind enough to extend such invitations are encouraged to not take developing circumstances personally. No need for alarm, either. It is likely just another as-the-caregiver-world-turns-day for carers and our loved ones. Thank you for all of the thoughtful invitations.
Is it okay with you if caregivers take things one-day-at-a-time? Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't.