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I’ve gone back and forth in my head many times about how I would honor my cousin Skip on this blog, or if this blog was even the space I should use to do so. I just didn’t feel like I had the words that could effectively convey my relationship with him, I mean, what can you say about a relationship that was as much father figure as it was protective big brother, but just as much best friend, confidant, cousin and cheerleader all rolled into one? How can you communicate the pain, brokenness, sadness that you’ve felt having lost that someone to absolute strangers on the internet? The answer to that for me, has been time. The answer (though cliché) to most of the internal battles we wage with ourselves. Time. It puts things in perspective, it heals, provides clarity, gives closure. I simply gave it time (3 years in total) maybe more time than I needed, but just as I am a believer in the importance of time, I also believe in the importance of timing.
It is National Caregiver’s Month. I will be honest, it’s a month I never knew existed until recently while reviewing TENA® MEN™ a cloth like absorbent shield for men.
As I was gathering information about TENA® MEN™ it got me thinking about the last few months in Skip’s life. How the cancer had ravaged his body, and his dependence on my family was at an all time high. Skip had gone from being totally independent, at times being the caregiver to everyone in the family to being the one needing care. It was a humbling experience for everyone but no one more than Skip. To be vulnerable and trust that the people around you will not only care for you but protect you by advocating for you with doctor’s, nurse’s and well-intentioned but often times intrusive friends, can be hard for a person who prides themselves on being that to others. During this time I saw my family step up as Skipper’s caregiver’s. From bathing him, to massaging his swollen feet, bringing meals or simply sitting near by as he slept, it was a job that was shared and one that I could not imagine doing alone. Yet there are many caregivers who do it alone without a community of people to assist like Skipper had been blessed to have had.
In honor of National Caregiver’s Awareness month and on the 3rd anniversary of Skipper’s death, I thought a great way to honor the role and my cousin would be to create a caregiver’s “take care of you”gift basket. The basket includes things that encourage the caregiver in your life to take as great care of themselves, as they would for their ailing loved one.
- TENA® MEN™ is as perfect for caregiver’s as it is for those receiving care. Designed as a protective shield that supports men dealing with bladder leakage. The soft cloth like outer provides comfort, discretion and odor protection so that both caregiver and patient are free from the embarrassment that can come with incontinence. After seeing Skip having to be cared for in this way, it helped me understand the importance of independence and dignity in this type of situation.
- & 4. Q-Tips and wet wipes and other hygiene products are essential in providing a sense of normalcy for caregiver’s who find themselves away from the comforts of home. Routines are important in all of our lives and our hygienic routines really help to make us feel good about ourselves. When your routine is altered in order to create a healthy routine for an ailing family member, it can make you feel less cared for, so something as simple as providing those things that you enjoy at home are an integral part of promoting a caregiver’s self-care.
- 5. 6. A candle, tea and a tea stump are all ways that I practice self-care. In creating a caregiver basket, add items that are specific to the caregiver in your life. That may be a journal, an inspiring book, or vitamins. Whatever the caregiver in your life uses to refuel their empty tank, add it to the basket.
TENA® MEN™ can be found at CVS in the aisle labeled incontinence.
Skip was a beautiful soul who taught me what it means to show up for the people in your life. I could always count on Skip to show up for me, and when I think back on all of the important milestones in my life his face beaming with pride is the one I can clearly see – birthdays, moves across country, holidays; and though cancer had ravaged his body and he was very self-conscious about his appearance he made it a point to show up to what was to be the last of my birthdays we would celebrate together (bottom right picture above). I miss so many things about him, but I think what I miss most is that he was the person I could do anything and nothing with and still have a great time. Some of my favorite memories with Skip, were of us cruising around Long Beach, no destination in sight, listening to old school rap and r&b at an ear ringing decibel, windows down, the ocean breeze filling our lungs. Skip was just what you call “good people”- honest to a fault yet respectfully so, he took a genuine interest in people, spent his life, giving back to his community. In fact when we had his funeral, there was story after story of people whose lives he touched, families who had fallen on hard times but were blessed by his generosity. I sat in the front row of the pew feeling so deeply sad about my personal loss but just as sad that the world was losing another person who contributed so much to making it better. It’s normal to cast a loved one as almost saintly when they’ve died. You tend to focus only on those traits you absolutely loved about them in order to remember them in the best light, and perhaps it gives you permission to grieve the loss in some way. With Skip however, the outpouring of love he received during his battle, the amount of people willing to step up and be his caretaker, the almost selfish way people fought to show their selflessness for him was a testament to who he had been in the lives of the people who loved him. My family is still reeling from the loss. We will never be the same because of it.