Kari Berit is a speaker, author, radio host, founder of The Unexpected Caregiver and a caregiving expert. We had the opportunity to learn more about her caregiving journey and all of the ups and downs it brings.
Who do/did you care for?
I cared for my Grandpa, mom, mom-in-law, sister, best friend and was a court-appointed health guardian of a local gentleman.
Share your story – how your caregiving journey started and how you got to where you are today.
My mom needed care but would only allow my dad to care for her. She had Huntington’s Disease (HD) but died from end-stage liver cancer. My sister and I were with her the day she closed her eyes to this world. When my sister turned 40 several years later, I saw the inevitable symptoms of HD in her. She tested positive for the defective gene and I became her financial, emotional, and social support person– all roles I eventually had to turn over to others in order to save myself. We did not get along while growing up and that didn’t change as we got older. I stepped in to be her caregiver but realized that being a caregiver doesn’t make the relationship healthier.
My paternal grandpa needed care and even though there was a ton of family baggage with that relationship, I shifted into “professional caregiver” and helped organize his care. I was a manager, director, activity professional for him in assisted and independent living communities. Giving care to my grandfather was easier, as I was able to put on my professional hat and deal with the emotions in private.
When I left senior housing, I remember how often I had family members in my office, begging me to “keep mom or dad busy,” or remove their phone, so they wouldn’t get the “please come and take me out of here” phone calls from their loved ones. They had become “Unexpected Caregivers” and didn’t know how to take on this role. I wrote my book of the same title, with the goal of helping adult children care for their aging parent/s. When I revised The Unexpected Caregiver in 2016 I added additional chapters, targeted at helping the caregiver stay S.A.N.E.– Supported, Appreciated, Not Guilty, and Energized. The S.A.N.E. Method works because it’s simple and straightforward.
What do you know now, that you wish you knew then?
To ask for support more often, even if it’s asking a friend to pick up dinner. To let go of “I have to do it” thinking. Others can help and they won’t do it your way; that’s just fine. To rejoice in the small moments, in the normal, everyday happenings in life.
How different are you today compared to when you first became a caregiver?
Each time I became a caregiver to additional family members, a member of the community and then my best friend, I learned to be more in the moment, expect mistakes to happen, listen more closely to the needs of my loved one, be less busy and be more engaged with them. Overall, I am much more gentle with both them and with myself.
As a caregiver, what resources would you like to have available?
Because I’ve addressed these issues in presentations, I have now made some of these ‘how-to’ videos: videos on specific tasks like toileting, bathing, feeding, etc., and also videos that address the unspeakable, namely how to take care of yourself when you don’t get along with your family or loved one, but are charged with caring for them.
What do you do for self-care?
I use my S.A.N.E. Method to remind me to ask for Support, Appreciate my efforts, let go of Guilt, and take care of myself physically to feel Energized.
Can you tell us about Unexpected Caregiver?
The Unexpected Caregiver is a how-to book that addresses the dynamics of caregiving relationships between adult children and their aging parents. I unravel the mystery and provide insightful caregiving solutions and helpful suggestions to tackle the emotional rollercoaster of caring for the family.
Whether you’re new to caregiving, in the middle, or at the end of a long journey, The Unexpected Caregiver teaches both family and professional caregivers to recognize and set the crucial boundaries and limits needed to maintain their own health.
The Unexpected Caregiver is organized by themes; you can choose just what you need at any moment: the challenges of family caregiving; mental, emotional and physical health; parent-directed activities; finding creative outlets; end-of-life issues; and dealing with complex family relationships are integral parts of the book too.
What else would you like to share with fellow caregivers?
“Put yourself on the gentle cycle.”
Where can people learn more about The Unexpected Caregiver and about yourself?
It is clear that Kari is an expert when it comes to family caregiving and we love her S.A.N.E. Method. Self-care is extremely important when it comes to everyday life but especially when caring for other people. When you care for yourself and feel your best both physically and mentally, you’re able to care for others better too. If you are a family caregiver or know someone who is, click here to find your/their local CRC to connect and get free resources today.Share this post: