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Five tips for surviving caregiving in Canada

Donna Thomson and Christabel Shaler (Photo by Blair Smith)

When someone you love is suffering, it is easy to feel worn down, angry and defeated. As you confront the daunting walls of medical bureaucracy, it may seem impossible to go on. 

Remember that caregiving is ultimately a privilege, because it is an opportunity to love deeply, without ego, and to spell out that love in your actions.

Donna and her family

The first time I met Donna Thomson was in the pages of her book,The Four Walls of My FreedomDonna's book brings a strong and articulate voice to the millions of invisible caregivers across Canada. I also enjoy her blog, which includes a fantastic recent piece titled, How To Live Without Irony: Just Ask a Caregiver.

I discovered Donna's writing after a year of living in the invisible realm of palliative caregiving and fighting for my mother's comfort and dignity.

As I read Donna's words, I could hear the familiar sound of relentless love. I could hear my struggle in her words. I could also hear the struggle of millions and millions of caregivers, who are tired, financially devastated, and too worn down to write or speak up about anything.

I asked Donna to share her top 5 tips for caregiver survival and she generously replied right away. Please enjoy:


Donna Thomson's Top 5 Tips for Caregiver Survival


Caregiving is a job that is full of thousands of small tasks. Each task in itself feels perfectly doable, especially because we (usually) love the person we are caring for. But over time, these tasks together can be exhausting. 


1) You can’t do it alone. Make a decision to say ‘yes’ every time someone asks to help. If you are shy or embarrassed to do so, just explain that you’ve taken a decision to say yes to each offer of help, even if you don’t know precisely how that person can help. If you don’t have a task list, just ask your friend to come over and hang out with you and your charge. The helpful tasks will reveal themselves (and the helping capacity of your friend will too).                

2) Remember, not all friends are good at being helpful. If you find that some friends or family don’t offer, just accept that part of their personality and try to move on asap. Begin to develop an ‘A’ team of really helpful friends and family who turn up and roll up their sleeves. 


3) Coordinate the team using facebook, email or one of the terrific new software platforms for caregiving such as Tyze.

4) Ensure that the whole team understands that caring for and about you, the caregiver, is a top priority. When a baby is born, everyone instinctively understands that the mother must be cared for so that she can look after her baby. The same principle is true when giving care. Someone else should look after walking your dog and collecting your children from school so that you can be with your relative in times of crisis.


5) Between crises, let the team share the care and visiting responsibilities so that the principal caregiver can have a break. These breaks will enable the caregiver to hang in for the long term without burning out. Maybe some friends can step up by issuing an invitation to dinner or a concert. When people talk about ‘caregivers needing support’, this is one important kind they are talking about - a real break.

Buy Donna's book on amazon


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