In September of 2017 Synthia asked if I wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago with her and I immediately said yes. One year and one day later we left on our journey. But long before we got on a plane we began to prepare. We bought a guidebook and studied the map. We started buying the equipment and supplies we would need. We talked to people who had done it before and learned some really practical tips and helpful advice. And started training, walking several times a week. We were really prepared – as best we could from a distance. Until we started walking…
No one can really prepare you for the journey …
… the physical, psychological and emotional toll of walking day after day after day after day.
But our preparation did help and without it our journey would have been so much harder. We met many pilgrims who had not prepared and saw them suffer needlessly. They had underestimated just how difficult a simple walk through the woods could be. But they quickly learned what they needed to know and do and their journey got easier.
And so it is the same for the family caregiver
Most families never really take the time to plan and prepare for their caregiving journey. Either they didn’t realize they were a family caregiver until long into the process or believed that there wasn’t much to know or do ahead of time. But for those who take the time to learn what they need to know and take some steps of preparation ahead of time, will find the walking of their caregiving journey just a little easier. And just like my fellow pilgrims on The Way – it is never to late to prepare.
So if you are just starting out or if you are already well on your way, you can always take the time to learn what you need to know and the things you need to do. Find your map, the guidebook, talk to other caregivers who have done this walk already. There are lots of free resources and expert help available. The Alzheimer’s Association and your local Agency on Aging are just two resources that can help you prepare. Both have a mountain of education and information available to make you an expert family caregiver.
I intentionally created Caregiver School to be a complete guide for the family caregiver and the worksheets are the maps to follow along the way. It has everything you need to know and do for each step of your caregiving journey. From just starting out through to the journey’s end, I walk you through what to expect and decisions you will need to make. The program is free and easily accessible by following the links on this webpage so there is no reason not to be prepared. You can buy it in e-book or print form to make it more portable but the information is exactly the same.
The journey of the family caregiver will be stressful and challenging enough. Don’t make it any harder for yourself by not being prepared.
Where do you begin?
But even as prepared as we were we got lost before we even started! We arrived in the small town of St Jean Pied de Port in the late morning and most of the other pilgrims were already well on their way. We registered, got our official pilgrim passport, stopped in a store to buy food and water for the day and we were ready to walk. It was then we realized we had no idea where to start! We were in a small town that was unfamiliar and we didn’t speak the language. It was very overwhelming. But we had no choice we needed to start somewhere. So we just started walking in the direction of the mountain we knew we had to climb and hoped that we were on the right road.
Families often find themselves in this role of caregiver and have no idea what to do or where to start. Just not knowing exactly when you need to step in and help and when you need to leave well enough alone. Or a sudden crisis has you in a situation that requires difficult decisions with very little time or information. Even for those caregivers who thought they were prepared can be caught off guard by an unexpected change in circumstances. It can be overwhelming but you have no choice but to start walking. Making a decision with the information that you have and hope that the way will become clear.
So as we started to walk out of town a man approached us to wish us a “Buen Camino”(the traditional greeting to all pilgrims on The Way) He asked us where we were from ~ he spoke English! When we told him we were lost he not only showed us the way but also told us what to expect – the turn that was not quite marked and the VERY steep incline ahead! The Way is not always clearly marked and it was easy to get lost. But just when we thought we were lost an angel would appear, a person, an arrow painted on a fence or even footprints in the dust to show us the way. We learned to look for our Camino Angels all along our journey and more importantly to ask them for help.
Caregivers need to learn where to go for answers and how to find the help and resources they will need for the journey. There is always help along The Way – look for your Camino Angels those people, signs or circumstances that appear just when you need them. Sometimes they appear out of nowhere, but most of the time you need to look for them. And learn to ask for help – before you get too lost or too overwhelmed. Look for your Camino Angels and ask for help to find your way.