Over the course of my career, I founded two businesses, one in retail and one in publishing. I also worked for several non-profits. In both instances, developing and adhering to a mission statement was an important step toward achieving my goals.
That mindset also applies to caregiving. We can create a mission and vision for how we approach the care of a loved one or decide upon important outcomes for them. By the time I had reached the second year of caregiving for my mother, I did just that, and wrote out a Mission Statement of Care.
There are many other tools we can use to guide us on this rocky but rewarding path, including goal setting, fill-in-the-blank workbooks, and personal mantras. Each are designed to help us achieve a more perfect union with those we care for and love.
Mission Statement of Care
In developing a mission statement, non-profits and corporate entities alike ask themselves, what is the reason their entity or product or service was created? My original unspoken mission in overseeing my mother’s last years encompassed three simple words: care for Mom. It wasn’t much so I started over, jotting down my mother’s personal and medical history, important dates or milestones, significant achievements in her life, and what she valued in her time before memory loss dictated her needs.
Besides reconciling the notion of dementia with the person I had known and loved for forty years, I also listed my priorities, some important, some simply practical: Engage in the services of a companion caregiver or friend during times when I traveled or worked. Develop a meaningful and respectful relationship with care home staff. Ensure her access to comfortable, attractive shoes and “cute” slippers that supported her gait and did not shrivel in industrial dryers. Keep Mom fed, including bacon and cookies.
And I answered the question of what was important to me: Learn when to laugh and when to turn away—the latter a more imperative lesson to absorb. To walk always in the present. Look for the hidden beauty in our interactions and look for Mom’s baby doll in someone else’s closet. Embrace the unexpected. Realize my vision will change. Often.
An entity’s mission statement should be summed up in a complete sentence. What I wrote turned out more poetic than corporate jargon. But it hit the mark. To breathe life into the woman who breathed life into me. Whenever I struggled, whenever she did, I returned to this document to find humor, love and wisdom that could not be found in person.
Goals for Caregivers
There are other ways to articulate our care actions. As we flip the calendar and implement new strategies of caregiving, one suggestion is for caregivers need to step away from the giving world and see themselves outside the context of their loved one’s life.
To do so, we can set goals or write affirmations on what is important in our own lives. Agingcare.com offers a few for the new year, including:
When I feel I am imperfect, I will not feel guilty.
I will find time alone for myself.
I will say no to requests for my time when I know I can’t add any more to my plate.
I will get appropriate help for myself if depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues become apparent to me, my friends, or my family.
The goal is not to develop lists that overwhelm us, but to keep these statements handy as gentle reminders that we exist outside the sphere of our caregiving.
Lessons and Workbooks
There are many workbooks available online to help plan for caregiving needs, as they relate to finances, legal, food, or check-ins with the doctor. However, the lived lessons are not always codified in a book. They are no fill-in-the-blank answers to the most difficult trials. We must cultivate the knowledge of our loved ones’ needs (through a mission statement) and excavate what is best for ourselves (through goals). Here are a few anecdotes collected from my personal experiences:
- Months after my first husband died following a three-year battle with leukemia, I wrote in my journal, I wished I would have given more love than care.
- As time wore on and my mother was stripped of all her mantles, worries, and expectations, I began to see her as more human. I often share the belief that My mother was becoming closer to the perfect state of being.
- This is from the celebrated author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, following the death of her partner: If I had the chance to do it over again, could’ve done differently, would’ve been to walk into it [caregiving] in a stance of surrender — arms collapsed, no clipboard, no agenda, no cherished outcome — and to have almost gone limp into it, which is not the same thing as hopelessness, but it is a very powerful stance to take in the wake of something that is bigger than you are.
Caregiving is bigger than any one of us. Committing to honor ourselves and our loved ones will bring us all closer to the perfect state of being human.
Annette Januzzi Wick is a writer, speaker, and author of I’ll Have Some of Yours, a journey of cookies and caregiving. (Three Arch Press) and is a recipient of a 2020 NSNC award. A frequent contributor to Cincinnati.com, her work has appeared in Cincinnati Magazine, nextavenue.com, Shanti Arts, 3rd Act Magazine, and others. Visit annettejwick.com to learn more.