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Saying goodbye

Enjoy each moment with a loved one, rather than focusing on an uncertain future.
Caregiver coach Rick Lauber reminds readers to focus on the present moment with their loved ones. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

I am writing my final Caregiver’s Coach column and while it’s said all good things come to an end, I’ve enjoyed a great run and I hope all I have shared has been informative, interesting, and valuable.

Saying goodbye also becomes an important issue for family caregivers with regards to their loved ones. Doing so can be difficult but is necessary to help come to terms with loss, appreciate life, and regain strength. Sadly, saying goodbye can happen repeatedly. With Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease, I started losing him when he began losing his memories. At that time, I dealt with anticipatory grief (knowing that he would not live forever and losing Dad as I knew him). Other types of losses can also begin to steal our loved ones from us; vision, hearing, mobility, etc. and we lose them as we once knew them.

With Dad, remaining strong proved to be immensely difficult. During visits with Dad when he asked who I was, I hid the tears but had to soldier on. While Dad forgot his former life, career, and family, I continued to care for him (and even increased that level of care as Alzheimer’s worsened). Anticipatory grief can drag on for months or even years until family caregivers say a final goodbye. 

While a loved one will pass away, he/she will never truly leave. A family caregiver can retain photos, recordings, collections and mementos from that relationship. I saved my father’s favourite hiking hat, which is perched on a bookcase in my home office and reminds me of our many hiking trips to the Rocky Mountains. As a freelance writer, I have saved all my Caregiver Coach columns and am proud of each one: creating these has taken significant time and effort. I hope you too can be pleased with your work as a family caregiver – the job is not always easy.

Family caregivers may support a cause of great importance to their loved one to keep that connection alive too (e.g. donating to a favourite charity, planting a memorial garden, becoming a blood donor, or volunteering with an organization a loved one believed in). For me, storytelling is a powerful means of keeping my parental memories alive and helping others, so I wrote more about caregivers and seniors. I like to think that Dad, a former university English professor who greatly appreciated the written word, would have approved of and been proud of his son’s career choice.

My first story for the Edmonton and Calgary Seniors was back in 1999 and my Caregiver’s Coach column was launched in 2017 (time does fly when you’re having fun!). I plan to continue as a general contributor but yes, there will be more stories about caregiving.

I encourage family caregivers to focus on the here and now – rather than dwell on an unpleasant future. When family caregivers know time is limited, the quality of time with a loved one shifts. Family caregivers need to allow this change to take the journey toward more meaningful moments and connections. Enjoy each day for what it brings. By working in the present, family caregivers can provide better support to a loved one and be less distracted. Communication with others, outside resources, respect, and patience can all help make this work easier.

A huge “thank you” to all family and professional caregivers for reading my column and doing what you do. You are tested daily and have shown considerable strength and further determination during COVID-19. Please take care of yourself and your loved ones.

Rick Lauber is a published book author and freelance writer. Lauber has written two books, Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide as valuable resources for prospective, new, and current caregivers.