All the people with whom we come in contact as we give and receive care become part of this collaboration. Even if we feel isolated we are part of a larger whole. The relationships involved in care giving are rarely between only two people. Regardless of whether the majority of care falls upon one person, friends and family, acquaintances and medical personnel all become a part of a collective of care. We exist in a network of relationships that is interdependent. One of the ways the stress of care giving increases is when we believe we are isolated.
All the roles and relationships are intertwined in a living, interactive system. None exists without the others. The person cared for gives as well as receives. Accepting care gracefully is a challenge for most people and is a gift in its own right. The actions of each member of the group influence the actions of every other member. The process is inherently collaborative and we can take advantage of the resources of the system if we understand this.
Living systems thrive through distributed knowledge – each part has a unique role. And all parts of the system grow and change over time. Every person in the collective of care begins by already knowing some things and learns as the process unfolds. All of the members hold different pieces of information. Each has the capacity to teach the others.
We may be unprepared for the roles thrust upon us and then doubly burdened by thinking that it is our sole responsibility to figure things out. None of us, care givers and care receivers alike, can know all that is required. Each situation is unique. When we let go of the belief that we have to know more than we do, we can open our eyes, look at the whole system with an open mind, and invite all members of the group to think together and share what they know.
As I healed from my strokes it became apparent to me that my entire neighborhood was involved in my recovery, even people I rarely saw. One neighbor knew how to create inexpensive outdoor handrails made of pipe that allowed me to learn to walk safely down an uneven path. Another realized that sweeping the stones off the surface of the narrow road in front of her house would make it safer for me to walk up it. When my friend who cuts my hair understood I could not come to her for a haircut in the first months of my recovery, she came to my house. My husband, who was my primary caregiver, would not have understood or arranged these things by himself. By being open to collaboration and asking other people to think with us, these solutions emerged.
When we collaborate we listen deeply to everyone involved including the person being cared for. Many times either family or friends would think that they knew what I needed but until they asked, actually inquired with an open mind, they did not know. I generally needed more independence than many people thought, but not always. Some things, like picking up a pencil, I had to try to do by myself to help myself discover how to challenge the disability. Others, like getting into the car, I needed help with until I learned how to do it.
As we came together and paid attention to each other, everyone in the system changed and grew. We invited ourselves to mutually influence one another. By listening and thinking outside the two-person relationship, we were all affected. We worked together and as we did, every member of the group was transformed. caregiver agency near me