The Five Gifts of Caregiving by Cindy Barnes Kolbe

The Five Gifts of Caregiving by Cindy Barnes Kolbe

Posted by Community Admin on Nov 30, 2016 9:01 am

1.    Listening
2.    Empathizing
3.    Connecting
4.    Encouraging
5.    Improving quality of life – ideally for the person needing help and the caregiver!

My career in caregiving began in an unusual way. A few weeks after my wedding, newly nineteen, I accepted my first full-time job as manager of my first group home. My husband and best friend, John, moved with me to a lovely old home where we lived with four men with developmental disabilities. What I lacked in experience I made up for with heart. It was 1977 during the first wave of the exodus from Ohio’s institutions. The residents sent to group homes initially were the very best candidates for community living. Even so, the transition challenged everyone involved, every day. 
    
Years later, John and I raised three children in Tiffin, Ohio. When my youngest child started first grade, I re-entered the work force at an institution. I provided direct care for several months on a wing where most of the residents had grown up without a family. I watched and listened to better understand the residents, and learned that everyone, verbal and nonverbal, communicated in many ways.  My job was difficult and humbling. It began in autumn and on Christmas Eve, I clocked in at 3pm to work a double shift until 7am the next day. A conversation with a co-worker that night made a lasting impression on me. She had recently returned from maternity leave and told me that being a mom changed her perspective of the job. When she thought of each resident as someone’s son or daughter, she cared for them as though they were her own child. 
    
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Seven years later, I still worked at the institution, but in a better job teaching literacy and community skills. One night, I drove home from my son’s college concert with my youngest daughter asleep in the passenger seat. I woke Beth, 14 years old, in an effort to keep my eyes open, giving her a front-row view of the accident that followed. She was paralyzed from the chest down with a cut spinal cord at C6-7, quadriplegic. I started a new job as a full-time caregiver for my teenage daughter. I didn’t know that she would not need my help for long. 
    
I desperately wanted Beth’s life to be easier, but it wasn’t about me. She decided early on that she would become independent again, no matter how long it took. I supported her goal. I resisted the urge to jump in and help. I learned to step back and wait for cues. I erred on the side of fostering independence, though it was always hard to watch her struggle. Help wanted and help needed could be two different things.    When Beth graduated from high school four years after her injury, she had figured out how to be independent as a quad. What a wonderful thing, to take of yourself, by yourself!

I worked at two more group homes as manager where I supervised other staff and worked with residents. It was more than twenty-five years after my very first group home job and since then, the exodus from the institutions had slowed; the residents new to community living often had multiple disabilities and issues. Regardless, it was my responsibility to do everything I could to improve their quality of life. Not an easy task, especially when a resident became violent or refused to cooperate. Remembering my earlier Christmas conversation, I aimed for a level of care that I would want for my son or daughters. With few staff and fewer resources at the group homes, I fell short, but I took a measure of pride in trying. 

My career in caregiving has led me to a deeper understanding of the connections that add meaning to our lives. Few jobs are more significant. Whether you are giving or receiving, I hope that the gift of caregiving is truly appreciated.

Cindy Kolbe’s blog shares her adventures with Beth at: strugglingwithserendipity.com

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Re: The Five Gifts of Caregiving by Cindy Barnes Kolbe

Posted by Mcfalls30 on Mar 14, 2017 5:40 am

This is very useful information on five gifts. Last year, I sent flowers to my mom on mother’s day by hiring a florist who had Send Mothers Day Flowers option with them. She was surprised that I sent such lovely flowers for her.

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