May 13, 2008

Show Us Your Best

Over a person’s lifetime there are many labels used to describe that individual. Some labels we’re glad to outgrow like “teenager” and “student.” Some labels we may love having like “mom” or “dad.” Some labels define our professional place in the world like “doctor,” “officer” or “senator.” Other labels may define our passions like “artist,” “sports fan” or “musician.” Each of us carries with us at all times at least a dozen labels.

There is a whole sub-category of labels that we’re not always sure how they fit into our lives. “Survivor” and “caregiver” could easily fall into that description. Being a survivor is a positive label but many survivors, understandably, wish the label didn’t have a reason to hang itself on them. Not that they’d necessarily want the opposite end of the scale, which is being dead or a victim wallowing in self-pity, but they just haven’t found a way---yet---to be proud of overcoming the life-challenges a stroke brought into their lives.

Being a caregiver is a label I neither like nor dislike. It just is what it is, although early on in the process of becoming one it felt like a step backwards in the area of human relationships. It felt like I’d had to trade in another, more beloved label to get the caregiver status. For example, I went from daughter to caregiver to my dad and then again I went from best friend to caregiver with Don. “Caregiver” felt negative, like I was in charge of something I’d rather not be in charge of: another human being.

I remember the first time someone called me a caregiver. It was shortly after Don was released from the hospital. I had wheeled him into a medical office and the receptionist said: “Are you your dad’s caregiver?” Don and I are very close together in age and it really hurt to have someone perceive him as being that much older than me. It was the first time that I realized that our relationship truly had changed with the stroke. We were no longer just Don and Jean. It happened a lot in the first year post-stroke---being mistaken for daughter and father---but as Don got better and looking more and more like his old self, people quit hanging the father-daughter labels on us. A little color and a lot of animation in his face turned him from looking like a “victim” to looking like a “survivor.”

There is a phrase I heard several times in commercials a few years back: Show us your best. God, I love that phrase! I tried to research its origins but all I could find was a lot of photography sites where people were invited to show each other their best photos on various topics. The phrase applied to sports, though, takes on a whole new meaning---of working hard in the past to achieve something great in the present. I don’t follow sports but I can’t help but admire anyone who has earned the label of Olympic contender. I wish the Para-Olympics for disabled athletes were covered better by network television. I saw them last year and watching people with disabilities competing in many of the same arenas and venues of the regular Olympic athletes puts special meaning into the phrase: show us your best. It also puts a new meaning to the label of “disabled.”

Maybe we need a Caregiver's Olympics so all of us who wear that label could be prouder of what we've achieved. But there are no metals to win for that kind of dedication, determination and courage.........except for the ones we caregivers give each other with a soft-spoken, “I understand” or a loud cheerly shout of, "Way to go! You stepped up to the plate and showed us your best!"

Jean Riva ©


Willow the Black Dale said...

Oh Jean (Willow's mom here) I do agree that caregivers need something special. Something just their own. It takes a special kind of person to be a caregiver because not all can do it.
My mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at 54. She passed at 65. My dad took care of her until she took her last breath. He wanted nobody else to be her caregiver. The last 5 years is when she really needed it.

I am sorry for the loss of Cooper. That too is a hard loss. Levi has to bring great big smiles to both of you! How can you resist his beautiful face. Willow brought so much happiness to us when our Sadie died. Animals have their own way of being caregivers I think.

So take a few hours for you and hit the stores and go shopping. Tell Don not to be so hard on hubby works at Toyota Tech Center in Ann Arbor. lol Without that job Willow would be without her bread and kibble!! :))
Take care. Robin

The Aphasia Decoder.... said...

Robin, You made me laugh right out loud with your Toyota comment. You must have dug deep in my blog to find Don's 'naughty' Toyota comments.

My sister-in-law has early onset Alzheimer's so I sure understand what you and your dad went through. It's got to be the worst kind of caregiving situation there is.

They actually do have a National Family Caregivers Week but it's not very well promoted though it is growing every year.


Jellen said...


Caregiver seemed the right title for the role I played once I got my husband home from the hospital, but I insisted on being called spouse and caregiver. As he got better, he insisted on me not being called his caregiver. He preferred I be called his personal assistant. So I have tried to refrain from using that term with and on behalf of him. I think I would feel the same way if the shoe were on the other foot.

The Aphasia Decoder.... said...


I've done that, too---called myself 'spouse and caregiver' when someone would ask if I'm the caregiver. That usually happens when we're out in the medical community. Labels do matter and I don't think I'd like having a caregiver anymore than your husband does.

The Aphasia Decoder.... said...


I've done that, too---called myself 'spouse and caregiver' when someone would ask if I'm the caregiver. That usually happens when we're out in the medical community. Labels do matter and I don't think I'd like having a caregiver anymore than your husband does.

Scruffy, Lacie and Stanley's Place said...

Jean...Mumsie here...aka Marilyn...Lacie, Scruffy and Babystan's servant....

WOW!! I love ur blog. I had read the references to ur husband's wheelchair on Cooper and Levi's blog and came here to find out why....I find your writing inspiring and thought provoking...

I am so very glad you found Levi or Cooper found Levi for you! He will be a wonderful addition to ur family and he was very lucky you found him!!!