Many mothers and daughters have a special bond that evolves over time. The bond between Adrienne Witherspoon and her daughter, Christine, a college student and athlete, took on new significance when she Christine injured in an automobile accident in 2010.
“Christine had moved away from home and was establishing herself as a young adult when an automobile accident impaired her left leg and triggered complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS),” says Witherspoon, who has been her daughter’s caregiver since her injury. “Although this is not the way either of us would have preferred that it happened, we became closer and our relationship has matured. I am witnessing Christine mature in her faith, watching her set evolving life goals that demonstrate her strength of character and seeing her become more discerning about her relationships and social priorities. She is embracing and incorporating her other talents and gifts into her life plans.”
Witherspoon says that one of the hardest things about becoming a caregiver is watching a loved one struggle to find a new identity. She says she has not found sufficient support networks for people with physical challenges; therefore she remains Christine’s most important advocate.
“There is a lack of resources and sensitivity for newly disabled people and a disregard by institutions and individuals for federal laws that protect the disabled,” Witherspoon explains. “The enormous time required to advocate for and research appropriate and sensitive medical treatment and other resources for my daughter is an ongoing challenge. Because of my professional and social networks, I have a number of resources to pull from, and I don’t hesitate to ask for help.”
Before Christine’s accident, Witherspoon produced a live health education radio show for five years, and in her role she often helped people with research on health issues. Witherspoon says that the experience helped her in her caregiving role with Christine, but she admits that her own support team is invaluable.
“I have a supportive group of friends and family that call, send Christine cards and messages of encouragement and visit as often as they can. This helps keep our morale up and encourages me, because Christine’s health care needs have greatly limited what I can do professionally, financially and personally.”
Witherspoon feels that the most effective caregivers acknowledge the difficulties of the caregiving role and take steps to keep themselves mentally and physically healthy, despite the guilt that can accompany being the healthy one in the relationship. She says it is important to recognize the “why me” moments, rather than pretending they don’t exist.
“Make the time to examine your life, needs, relationships and the changes that must be made to care for your loved one,” Witherspoon advises. “Identify and make a list of things that are of greatest value to you in maintaining a sense of self — time to read, listen to music, go to church or just walk around the neighborhood — and then find the support necessary to make sure you can do one or two of these consistently.
“Admit to yourself that you don’t always feel as loving as you would like and cry when needed,” she continues. “Caregiving is hard, and you are human. My daughter is the light of my life, and I am blessed to have the ability to make sure that she is safe, well cared for, encouraged and loved, but I do have my ‘why is this happening’ moments. I accept them as me being human, then meditate, cry or complain to select friends who help me get through the moment. This is not an easy job, and in most cases, you are doing the best that you can under trying circumstances, so be gentle with yourself and try not to have regrets or guilt.”