A Different Kind of Caregiving

SchoolOutdoor School Present

I watch as the sky turns from city glow to deep blue. None of the students stir, and traffic flows by like a roaring river (even this early). Finally the clouds behind the campsite change from vague shadows to glorious pink.

In the quiet of the morning, the stress starts to wash away. For the past six weeks, the students and I have planned for this day, this week. They decided what time they would need to leave school in order to arrive in San Diego by 4 in the afternoon (4 a.m., they said). They decided what they would like to visit and learn about on this Urban Jungle Expedition.

Today we go on a whale watching tour, and visit the USS Midway. Tomorrow, we’ll take in the Living Coast educational center and a beach. Many of them have never seen the ocean before. Wednesday, they will venture out into the city on their “Choose Your Own Adventure Day.” Using public transportation, they will travel to points of interest that they didn’t want to miss. The only caveat? They have a $10.00 budget. (Don’t worry, a staff member will travel with each group). Thursday, they’ll hit the zoo. “I can’t wait to see a lion,” one young man told me yesterday.

Outdoor School Past

For the past two years, I’ve done the bulk of the planning for outdoor school. Sure, they kids had choices about which hike or which class they wanted to take. But I made most of the decisions. I figured they should enjoy whatever I planned and go with the program because I’d done stuff like this before.

The results? We had fun. The kids loved the hikes, activities, and programming. But the trips took forever and kids dawdled at rest stops.

This time, the bus arrived 20 minutes early and everyone hustled through the bathroom lines at the rest areas. Students have told other staff members how much they appreciate getting to make choices and plan things.

Caregiver Lessons

In teacher mode, I’ve forgotten a basic human need. People (even students), like to have input. They like to feel as if their thoughts and ideas matter. It makes them happier about the situation–even if camping isn’t their thing.

And that’s a good reminder for caregivers. How can we involve and engage the ones we care for in the decisions? How can we make it a journey together rather than a journey for? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section!

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • When my mother-in-law refuses to eat sometimes, I wonder if it’s because that’s about the only thing she has control over any more. We’re always reminded by hospice care that near the end people lose interest in food, and though that’s true, she’s not there yet – she eats fine most of the time. Just every now and then she doesn’t eat something that she has eaten well before. It’s hard when she doesn’t speak any more to know what her choices would be. But I remember feeling bad that so many times during her decline, we had to overrule her (e.g., she didn’t want to get new hearing aids even though she desperately needed them and appreciated them once she did get them). She’s always been pretty much a “go with the flow” kind of person and has rarely been seriously unhappy, which made it all too easy to just “do” and forget to ask her what she wanted (when possible). This is a good reminder to ask them their preferences when possible, as much as possible, for both big and small decisions.

    • That must be so hard for you, Barbara! I’m glad that you sensitively enlist her opinions.

  • I remember my mother-in-law after her stroke, refusing foods she wanted to eat the day before. In fact, her wants in that area felt like a moving target at the time. But I agree, I think it was the one thing left about which she had a choice. It’s good to remember as I care for my own mother now.

    • It’s funny, but the kids planned the menu…and everything on it was on the menu last year…but because they planned it, they aren’t complaining!

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    GREAT post, Anita. My suggestion would be – ask the patient for advice in all large decisions, and in many small ones.

    When you have to leave the workforce due to terminal illness, it feels lie you’ve been pulled from the ‘family finance decision loop’, as well, and that hurts. The message that comes through is that if you’re not ‘in the swim’, you’re irrelevant.

    In some situations, it’s true. Barb’s SmartPhone died, she needed a new one for work, and there was nothing I could do to help her…the last phone I was able to use was an ancient flip-phone. I still don’t really know what an ‘app’ is.

    But Barb took the time to explain the technology to me, so that I felt I could at least make a halfway-useful suggestion.

    It meant a lot.

    https://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2017/09/your-dying-spouse-366-patients.html

    • Great advice, Andrew! I’m glad tha Barb explained things to you :). That technology can be a bear, can’t it? Pedro always has to explain the stereo system to me (I don’t use it often).