“Caregiving is hard work. Caregiving is pain. Caregiving is loving and giving and sharing. Caregiving is accepting and learning new things and going on, and on, and on. Caregiving is lots of questions and very few answers. Caregiving is being out of the mainstream. Caregiving is learning what it means to die with dignity and making sure your loved one’s wishes will be honored. Caregiving is all these things and a whole lot more.” – National Family Caregivers Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving
For Steve Slabik, Hospice of the Red River Valley’s director of finance, caregiving was the most rewarding experience he’s ever had.
Steve is one of approximately 65.7 million people in the U.S. who have served as an unpaid family caregiver, 34 percent of which are male.* Even though males make up about one-third of total caregivers, sometimes they are more likely to encounter certain challenges than their female counterparts, including isolation, stunted emotions, an inability to ask for help and support, insufficient self-care and challenges with day-to-day household tasks.
For four years, Steve cared for his wife, Shirley, who suffered from breast cancer, and their two young children. As a stoic Midwesterner and classic male, Steve had a hard time sharing his feelings. “I couldn’t even recognize them. For the first year, there wasn’t time for anything, including processing my emotions. I remember feeling exhausted. Between treatments and trying to maintain a job and normalcy for the kids, we tried to remain upbeat and keep hope.” Steve remembered.
Like many male caregivers, Steve did not have a support system apart from his ailing wife. “I felt alone and very isolated. I’ve always had a hard time asking for help. That’s just who I am. Thankfully, Shirley’s friends took care of bringing meals; they even managed a schedule,” Steve said. “In retrospect, I wish I would have just asked for help. Sometimes people would say, ‘Let me know what I can do …’ but I found those words hurt the most. The people who wanted to help just did, without me asking. I didn’t know what we needed. We found many of our old friends disappeared. They didn’t know how to deal with it and weren’t comfortable being around.”
It wasn’t until after Steve started attending a support group, 18 months after Shirley was diagnosed, that he was able to recognize he needed help and how to ask for it. Steve recalled, “The support group helped me see that I was worthy of asking for help, and reminded me I had to take care of myself, too.”
Still, he faced other challenges. “I struggled with not knowing what priorities were most important to my wife. Should I have spent more of my time taking care of her or the kids or myself? In retrospect, we probably didn’t talk enough,” Steve said. “I felt like I should just know and did what I felt was most important. I had to trust my instincts and hope I was doing the right thing. Shirley was a stay-at-home mom; I even had to learn household tasks as I went along. I just had to do the best I could.”
Now, Steve looks back on his time as a caregiver for his late wife with pride and gratitude. “The whole experience was actually rewarding. Breast cancer was the worst thing that ever happened to my wife, but in a roundabout way, it was the best character-building thing that ever happened to me, because it changed who I am. I became more active and engaged with my wife, kids and family. It made me who I am today. I like to think I have my priorities straight now, when I probably didn’t before. It made me realize what was most important.” Steve shared.
Most surprising for Steve was the fact that he could handle the challenges of caregiving. “I found strength I didn’t know I had. I did what I had to do for my family without a second thought,” Steve said.
If you know a caregiver, either male or female, consider reaching out. The physical, emotional and time-consuming toll caregiving takes can leave a person exposed to burnout and isolation. Offer to help with household tasks, cooking or errands. Your support may help a caregiver feel less alone with the job.
*Source: Caregiving in the U.S., National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP, funded by MetLife Foundation, November 2009.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.