Comedy, Caution and Caregiving: Breeda Miller’s Journey
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life … and the thing I’m most proud of,” said Breeda Miller, reflecting on her daughter-turned-caregiver journey.
Breeda Miller was an accidental caregiver to her mother for eight years. The average caregiving journey lasts four years.
“All I knew was I loved my mom. I had no training, no background, no idea and no plan. I just jumped right in,” Miller said. “One day we were having dinner with mom and the next day we were in the emergency. I like to talk about the bad alphabet. We were in the ER, then the OR, then the ICU. I learned about UTIs. And then finally it was MRI. She moved right in.”
Throughout her journey, Miller learned many lessons about caregiving, both for the caregiver and for the person receiving the care. Today, Breeda Miller shares the importance of using humor when you can.
“Humor saved my life, because I was either gonna cry, or I was gonna find a way to laugh. Fortunately, in our family, we use humor a lot. And my mom, for the most part, was good with it. We would joke about stuff and when I had to talk about icky things, you know, we would just find a way to joke about them or to talk about them in a fun way rather than heavy way,” reflected Miller.
It’s also important to frame words and phrases to help make the loved one feel better about themselves. For example, “I would talk about using disposable underwear, never the word diaper because that is demeaning and it makes people feel like less,” advised Miller. “There were a lot of different things that just took the heaviness off. It was never disrespectful, never mocking. It was never directed at my mom, but about the situation. I think if you can find humor in the situation, not the individual, it can just make a tough situation so much easier.”
Miller also shared some tips for caregivers and the importance of self-care.
“You can’t be creative, you can’t be funny if you’re burned out, frustrated, exhausted and cranky. Your brain is not going to be able to be agile, to be able to respond to things and to even have a sense of humor. So it is essential to take care of yourself and to give yourself permission to take a nap or read a trashy novel or to do something that is just for fun or to go out with friends. That’s so hard. The biggest surprise, bad surprise that I got as a caregiver was the isolation … not one person ever said to me, so how’s your mom?” said Miller. “Self care is not selfish, it’s survival. Caregivers are the worst at taking care of themselves … It’s like, no, I’m an athlete. I’m training, I’ve got to be my best self, so that I can deal with all that’s coming through for me.”
If you’re preparing for a caregiving journey or are in the midst of one, Miller has some practical suggestions to consider.
- Rearrange your home so the person you’re caring for has access to a bathroom on the same floor they’re living on. That might mean setting up a bedroom in a den or dining room temporarily.
- Set up your home for safety by removing trip hazards such as throw rugs or clutter and installing grab bars in showers and near toilets.
- Ask questions and take advantage of resources available through local Area Agencies on Aging or AARP.
One final tip she has for siblings long before the beginning of the caregiving stage is to talk to their loved one about their wishes.
“Really ask questions about how they feel about their care, the kinds of things they want, so that if you are running into resistance with your siblings, or other people, you can say, ‘you know what, this is what mom wanted or this is what dad wanted.’ If you can be proactive when they’re well and their faculties are good and they can make decisions, you’re going to have peace of mind, and it’s going to reduce the amount of stress,” added Miller.
Since her caregiving journey began many years ago, Breeda Miller has authored a book, “The Caregivers Coffeebreak – Take a Break Before You Break: 76 Practical Tips to Help Caregivers” which helps caregivers to take a moment throughout the day to relax and laugh at life’s events. She also speaks about caregiving at local and national events.
You don’t get to choose when you become a caregiver, but there are small things you can do to prepare for it and embrace the journey along the way.
You may also like:
- Table Talks: A Conversation on Caregiving
- A Five-Step Action Plan for Caregivers of Aging Parents or Loved Ones
- Long-Distance Caregiving: How Can You Help a Loved One?
Photo Credit: Daisy-Daisy