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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Caretaker versus Caregiver

After I finished writing the new book, Surviving the Chaos, I sent it to the proofreader to find all my typos, inconsistencies and other errors. I had titled the book and added a phrase, Caretaking the Caregiver. As soon as the proofer received my manuscript, she immediately telephoned me.

“We have a problem,” she says. Then she patiently went on to explain to me the difference between a caretaker and a caregiver. Oops… I had made a big mistake and needed to make a few (a lot) of changes. Well… that’s why I hire a proofreader.

Caretaker – A person employed to look after a public building or a house in the owner’s absence such as a janitor, custodian, superintendent, maintenance man/women, etc.

Caregiver – A family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly or disabled person.

As I’m making the changes, my mind drifts off (more so than usual) and I start thinking about caretaking and caregiving.

Hmmm… sometimes it feels as though I’m more of a caretaker than a caregiver. Sometimes it feels that I’m attending to an object rather than a person. I guess I do because I’m keeping Riley’s room clean and free of dust, dirt, and smelly things. So if I’m taking care of his room, I would be a caretaker.

However, I’m also taking care of a person inside that room and for that part of this whole thing, I’m a caregiver. Does that make me a caretaking caregiver? Or a caregiving caretaker?

It doesn’t really matter because most of the time I feel that I’m simply a servant. Riley often announces that he expects me to be his employee whose job is to meet his every need. I don’t receive a paycheck for being his employee, instead I should be happy to be in a position of taking care of him. I don’t know why he thinks it would be such a privilege to change his soiled underwear of pick his remote up off the floor a dozen times a day. But, in his atrophied brain it all makes sense to him.

Sometimes I forget that I must treat him like a child rather than an adult. He looks like an adult. He talks like an adult. But, alas, he is not. He is a 12-year-old boy in a man’s body. He is at the stage where he believes the world should revolve around him. There’s nothing to be done about it, so I simply play into it. That keeps me a bit saner.

If Riley were an object rather than a person, my life would be so much easier. I could simply dust him off and place him back on the bed. He wouldn’t be able to talk to I wouldn’t have to respond to his every question. No cooking him meals or feeding his internal cookie monster.

The reality is that he IS a person. No matter what he has put me through in our couple history, he is still human. In order to take care of him, I separate all that hurt and anger from the past from what is going on now. In my mind the past is put into a box and placed on my closet shelf. I don’t take it down and go through it for old time’s sake. It’s best left alone. If I go through it, all those memories would be in the forefront of my brain and I wouldn’t be able to do what I need to do for Riley.

When I took him back into my home I never imagined things would go so far for so long. Caregiving to this degree was never my intent. But things have a way of happening in directions we never imagine. So, until I can hire someone else to do it, I’m a caretaking caregiver and I know the difference.

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