Red Flags of Desperation in Caregivers: Here Are 3 Core Issues Affecting Those Caring for Others by Peter Rosenberger
Murder-suicides are on the rise, even for the rich and famous. But why? When a former co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings football team was discovered dead alongside his wife in an apparent murder-suicide, it made headlines – but sadly, not the first or last of such events. From reports, it appeared she suffered from dementia and her declining condition led her husband of 60 years to a place of great despair.
While states nationwide on this scenario remain unpublished, in Florida alone, this scenario has increased tenfold in the last 30 years. Peeling back the veneer of surface talk to see what’s going on beneath in the lives of 43.5 million family caregivers, we will see desperation and heartache lurking in so many. Without help, unaddressed dark thoughts can lead those tending to the needs of chronically impaired loved ones to even darker places. Here are three core issues affecting every caregiver at some point of a potential reoccurrence of the next heartbreaking, but sadly, not infrequent tragedy.
- Isolation. Caregivers can often feel isolated in a crowded room. Often cut off, they lose the ability to participate in normal life-affirming activities or interacting with friends. The isolation is not limited to the physical. The mind of a caregiver is often filled with such conflicting feelings that may not be able to be managed without professional help. In the case of a former football team co-owner, he and his wife were probably in need or in want of nothing, other than good health, which can be elusive to us all. After a 60-year-long marriage, one weak moment led to tragedy. The irrational appeared rational just long enough to act on it – two times.
- Despair. Caregivers torture themselves with things that haven’t even happened, and live in the wreckage of their future. They stare down a highway and see what’s coming and it’s just too much for an already crushed heart (and sometimes body). Resentment, rage and fear lurk close to despair, and caregivers simply can’t fight those things alone. When faced with what they think is inevitable, the darkness can quickly engulf. This scenario respects no age range. This current tragic case involved a 77-year-old caregiver and his wife with wheelchair-bound and reported encroaching dementia. Among the cases just last year, however, were a 28-year-old mother who shot and killed her severely disabled 7-year-old before unsuccessfully trying to take her own life, and a father who beat to death his non-verbal son. If no one offers a clear path to safety for these and so many other individuals, they may be left with the one voice shouting in their hearts: the voice of despair.
- Lack of eye contact. If you visit the home of a caregiver, ask them how they are doing, and see if they look you in the eye when they respond. Most likely, they will look at their shoes or cast their gaze in another direction. This is a sign they don’t know how to cry out for help. Virtually every caregiver struggles with identity loss. Someone else’s story simply overpowers their own. Most will struggle with speaking in first person singular, so gently help them stammer out the “I” word. It’s hard to ask for help in someone else’s voice. Help them find and speak in their own voice.
Remember, the average caregiver may have gone weeks, or even years, without anyone even asking how THEY are doing, rather than asking how their needy aunt or uncle or aging mom or dad or grandpa or grandma or their special needs child is doing.
Clergy, counselors, physicians, friends, if you see something, say something. Warning signs and red flags of desperation are there if you take time to see beneath the surface of the auto-responder cliché of, “Oh, I’m fine, thank you.” If you see this in a caregiver showing these warning signs, say something to them, specifically about their needs. Ask them if they've seen a doctor lately for themselves. Point them to safety and give them a fighting chance.
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