When forgiveness becomes key

Resentful. Disappointed. Angry.  Irritated.
Some of these words might describe how you feel about one or both of your parents. Perhaps Mum and Dad were neglectful of your needs in childhood, or even downright abusive on an emotional or physical level. You might have felt disregarded or diminished by their communication with you.  It may also be that childhood was a largely positive time for you, and during adulthood you encountered major conflict with your parents.  Feeling angry, resentful or disappointed with your Mum and Dad can make the caregiving role even more complicated. The issue of having negative emotions towards parents is one to be brought into the open, as it’s more common for family caregivers than you may realize.
When Dad suddenly needs help in managing his daily routines because of memory loss, you are likely to feel challenged by stepping into this supportive role. That is completely understandable, yet others may expect you to be involved in the care more than you feel comfortable with. Health Professionals, Aunts and Uncles, siblings, and family friends may expect you to help Dad in ways that come at great personal cost to you. I have a few suggestions on navigating this delicate situation, and I invite you to see which ideas resonate with you.


Suggestions on coping as best you can:

Honour your needs. Limit the number of hours you spend with Mum or Dad, and don’t wear yourself out with too much time in their presence if it drains you.

Appreciate how you’ve grown. Think about how you’ve responded to your parents in the past, and celebrate how you’ve matured in your way of communicating with them. For example, you might be excellent at setting boundaries when they make requests.

Practice forgiveness.  Get support from a close friend or a therapist in working towards self-forgiveness. Be gentle with yourself for the times you got upset or acted in ways you would no longer see as being productive. Practice letting go of criticism towards yourself, and see what kind of difference this makes.

Live in kindness. Even though your parents might never acknowledge that they’ve hurt you, or say sorry about it- you can choose to now see them with a kind heart, which reflects the kind of person you are.

Create a forgiveness mantra.  What words are meaningful to you? I suggest you keep it simple. An example could be “I forgive and let go of hurt, and I welcome love”. Try and say it out loud when you have a private moment, and then say it in your head whenever you need to.
If you’re reading this and a lot of stress or grief is coming up for you, pause for a second and breathe slowly for 5 seconds. A whole clan of caregivers in North America are with you, and we understand that this is not easy or simple.
Please connect with a trusted friend or professional support person as soon as you’re able to.



How to Diffuse Frustration


Frustration is a frustrating emotion.

When you get caught in a wave of it, it can feel hard to break free. You might feel stuck, and that feeling could cause more frustration. If left unchecked, you might lose sight of why you felt frustrated in the first place, which makes it very hard to work through your emotions.

Frustration is a primary emotion, which means that it is an emotion often expressed as other emotions, such as anger. If you can take some time to diffuse frustration before it’s expressed as anger, you have a better chance of communicating more effectively with your family, co-workers, friends, or loved one.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated, try following the steps below to diffuse and work through the challenging emotion.

BREATHE | Acknowledge that you’re feeling frustrated and pause, wherever you are. Even if you’re in the middle of a conversation or sitting in traffic. Name the emotion, and take a deep breath in, and out. Breathe all your air to expand your belly as big as it will stretch, then blow the air out forcefully through your lips. If you’re able to, let out a loud sigh. Do what grounds you. For some it is deep breathing, for others it is a walk in the forest, playing music, or exerting some energy exercising.

REFLECT | Now it’s time to figure out why you’re feeling frustrated. There might be several reasons, and that’s okay. Talk yourself through the layers that have built up to make you feel this way. Chances are, you have a lot on your plate. Did you say yes to something you didn’t want to? Are you feeling unsupported? Are you waiting for answers about your loved one’s condition? You can’t solve it all at once, but identifying the source of frustration can help you to come up with a plan to address it.

REACH OUT | Now that you’ve identified where your frustration is coming from, it’s time to get support. What kind of support you will need depends on your unique situation. Maybe you need so carve out some time for self-care, or perhaps you have not been getting enough sleep and need to take some steps to ensure you get a good night’s rest. If you’re feeling that you need some help caring for your loved one, you might need to talk to their support team and ask them to help out. Sometimes what you need might just be to connect with other caregivers who are experiencing similar situations. Talking, sharing, and connecting can do wonders to help manage frustration.

What steps do you take to diffuse frustration? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!


Cassandra Van Dyck

Difficult Conversations: Setting Boundaries


“The appropriate uses of the words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ make more room for love.” – SARK

As a caregiver, you will be asked to do a lot. Whether explicitly or inadvertently, you will be asked to provide emotional support and help with day-to-day tasks, such as cooking meals, driving your loved one to appointments, or assist with personal care. Knowing your boundaries and affirming them is essential to prevent burnout and to make sure you are caring for yourself with the same love and attention that you give to others.

Your personal boundaries are unique to who you are and what you allow in to your life. Maintaining or creating boundaries is not selfish – it is essential if you wish to take care of yourself. Personal boundaries are not inflexible; they can shift and change and grow. What’s important is that you honour the boundaries you’ve created for yourself when you need to so that you do not burn out or become resentful of what’s been asked of you. People and so many other things in life will test your boundaries over and over again. Without knowing yourself and what your limits are, you might feel that you are often “walked on” or that you feel a general lack of control in what happens to you.

If you struggle with setting boundaries in your own life…

…please remember to be gentle with yourself. People have a hard time setting boundaries for a number of reasons, but it usually stems from the way you are raised and what you learned about what you need to do to be accepted and loved. Learning to set strong personal boundaries can be hard work! Please reach out to a counselor or health care professional if you are realizing you need to do some more work around boundary setting.

If you would like some tips for setting boundaries in your caregiving journey…

…read on for a helpful exercise! Implementing some simple strategies can help you to maintain your boundaries and prevent taking on too many things, or situations that you are not comfortable with.

The Stop-Look-Listen System

From Better Boundaries: Owning and Treasuring Your Life, By Jan Black & Greg Enns

“When you are faced with a choice, you stop before moving ahead, look over the situation, and listen-to yourself, to your intuition, to the wisdom of trusted advisors, or to what your experience has taught you.”

STOP | Stop right before you make a choice. If you are at the store deciding whether or not to overspend, on the phone deciding what date is best for a family reunion, or at work debating an offer to take on a new project even though you haven’t finished the last one, stop long enough to clear your head and review your options.

LOOK | Look at the situation from more than one perspective. Ask the following questions:

  • What is my motive for making this choice?
  • Will it hurt me?
  • Will it hurt others?
  • Would I choose this option for someone I love?
  • Can I change my mind? If not, am I sure I want to make a final decision right now?
  • What would the people I trust suggest I do?

LISTEN | In your mind, try to “hear” these tips from people who have become experts at making choices.

  • Listen to your gut, is it telling you that you’re being pressured in to saying “yes”?
  • If someone is pressuring you, remove yourself from the situation.
  • Don’t make an important decision when you’re desperate.
  • “Let me think about it” are five words to speak often. Things usually look different the next morning – either better or worse.

Cassandra Van Dyck

Depression and Seniors, Part 2: Difficult Conversations


In our last Depression and Seniors post, we discussed some of the signs and symptoms of depression and included some tips for getting help. In this post, we’ll be talking more about how to have a difficult conversation with your loved one about getting support for depression.

Introduce the topic mindfully.

When you’re nervous about having a difficult conversation with someone, you might go over the many ways you think the talk might go before having it. Preparing for a conversation can help you anticipate questions and prepare answers, but it can also cause a lot of fear if you think the person you’re talking to might react poorly. Try to be open to their reactions to prevent defensiveness. Although you’ll never find a perfect moment to bring up something that’s hard to talk about, aim for a good one. You might
know that your loved one is the calmest after eating or shortly after they’ve woken up. Make sure you leave enough time for a lengthy conversation and avoid bringing up tough topics if you have to go somewhere else quickly or if someone else will be visiting.

Be calm and direct.

Though it doesn’t have to be perfect, and there’s a good chance that it won’t be, try to broach the topic calmly and directly. One of the most common mistakes people make when starting a tough conversation is to avoid the topic. This can be confusing for the other person and may cause them to be more upset.

“The past few weeks your mood has seemed very low. I know it can be hard to open up to a new person, but talking to a counsellor might be helpful. I’d be happy to go with you to meet someone. How do you feel about it?”

“I’ve noticed that lately you have not been returning my phone calls or going out for walks like you usually do. I’m worried about you. How are you doing?”

Practice Active Listening.
Now that you’ve started the conversation, you’ll want to be remain open to your loved one’s reaction. This is probably the part of the conversation that you’ve been dreading, since you might think they’ll react negatively. Although this is the scary part, it’s also the time when you have the most control over how the rest of the discussion will go. If your loved one says “no” to your suggestion or acts hurt or offended that you’d suggest bringing another professional in to their circle of care, your instinct might be to react strongly. You might be worried that their refusal to accept assistance will increase the pressure on you or make their situation worse. This might make you angry or want to shut down, but those reactions will not help. Practicing active listening increases mutual understanding. You can practice active listening by using open body language, giving your loved one the time to fully express themselves, and by using empathy to reflect their feelings back to them. This will help you to understand where they’re coming from and alleviate some of their fears, and it will help your loved one know that you care about how they feel.

Here’s an example:

Sadaf has told her mother that she’s noticed her mood has been low lately and has suggested talking to their family doctor about connecting her with a counsellor for some extra support. She has asked how her mother would feel about it. Sadaf’s mother responds, “I’m fine and I don’t need to talk to anyone. I won’t bother you with my problems anymore.” Sadaf feels frustrated by this response and wants to walk away, but remembers to use active listening.

“It sounds like you’re really hesitant about talking to someone else about how you’ve been feeling. I know you’re not fine because of what you’ve been telling me. What about talking to someone else worries you?” This question and reflection opens up the conversation for Sadaf’s mother to talk about her concerns and for Sadaf to respond with empathy and answer any questions she might have.

Do Your Research.

If you spend time researching options for your loved one before talking to them, you will have more knowledge to answer their questions which may help them adjust to the idea of talking to someone new. Do remember that you don’t have to have all the answers! If your loved one asks a question you don’t have the answer to, offer to look in to it with them. You can say, “I don’t have the answers yet, but I’d love to sit down with you and explore the options together.”

The Kelty Dennehy Mental Health Resource Centre in North Vancouver is a wonderful resource. You can also call the Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 or the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) for confidential, non-judgmental and free support available 24/7. You do not have to be the person in need to make this call.

Let them know they’re not alone.

Sometimes one of the scariest things about accepting help is the possibility that existing supports will disappear. You can help to ease your care partner’s fears by reassuring them that you are not going anywhere. You could try saying, “It can be scary to accept help from new people. Please know that I care about you and want to be able to help you in the best way I can. I think involving this person could help me to be the best support person possible.”

Go with them to meet the new care provider. Debrief afterwards. 

Having you with them when they meet their new care provider might help ease some of the stress of involving a new person in their care. You might be able to support your care partner by asking questions and reflecting back what you’re hearing from the care provider in a way that your loved one will understand. After the appointment, check in with your loved one to see how they’re feeling. “How was that for you? What did you think?” Practice active listening to explore where they’re at.

3 Tips for Caregivers:

Debrief with a trusted friend or therapist.

Look at what support you need.

Appreciate your best efforts.

*This post was adapted from Difficult Converstaions: When it’s Time to Ask for Help

Cassandra Van Dyck





Depression and Seniors: Signs to Look Out For and How to Get Help


Depression is not a normal part of aging, yet it effects a great deal of seniors. Although statistics report a large number of people suffering, most do not seek treatment. There are many reasons for this. Depression may present differently in the elderly than in younger adults and can also be overlooked because of the prevalence of other health concerns, sleep problems, lifestyle, or grief.

When is it depression?

You may suspect depression in a loved one if:

they have lost interest in activities they used to enjoy

they express feelings of hopelessness or helplessness

they have a lack of motivation or energy

they have lost weight/interest in eating

These symptoms may also be present with certain health conditions or when a loved one is grieving. While you can’t diagnose the person you’re worried about, you can look for signs, ask them questions about what they’re going through, support them, and get support.

What do you do if you suspect your loved one is depressed?

Realising a loved one may be battling depression can be very hard for caregivers. You may feel frustrated or lost and unsure of how to help. Your care partner may be resistant to seeking help and might not want to talk about what they’re going through. So, what can you do?

Ask questions. 

You may be noticing some symptoms of depression, and you’ll want to ask some questions to get some clarity. These conversations can be tough. Try using phrases like, “When did you start feeling like this?” “What can I do to help?” Use active listening so your loved one knows they’re being heard.

Encourage your loved one to get help. 

It takes a lot of vulnerability to share with someone that you are feeling depressed, so your loved one may be reluctant to talk to a health care professional about what they’re going through. Let them know that you care about them and want to support them to get the help they need to feel better. Offer to make an appointment for them and join them for their first visit if you can. If your loved one knows you are willing to walk with them on your journey, they may feel more comfortable asking for help.

If you suspect your loved one is struggling with depression and they’re unwilling to get support, or if you suspect they may be suicidal, reach out for help. Talk to your doctor, or call The Crisis Centre: 1-800-SUICIDE

Supporting someone with depression can be overwhelming and cause stress for the caregiver. If you are caring for someone who may be depressed, make sure you are getting the support you need as well.

Cassandra Van Dyck




Conflict Over Inheritance


Despite the fact that many feel money or objects will never be an issue for their family, the inheritance can be a major source of strife among siblings. Even if there is little money to be shared in the inheritance, siblings can fight over sentimental family heirlooms.

Any inheritance that is unequally divided among siblings can be a painful experience and can damage relationships because the reality is that we equate a parent’s consideration of us in their will with love.

The most important thing to do to avoid this conflict is to have your parent clearly outline their wishes in their will so that you can use the document as a reference for when they are no longer able to make those decisions.

As well, it is helpful if your parent can explain their decisions to your family themselves. If they are already unable to make these decisions and there is no surviving spouse, the law will divide their assets evenly among their surviving children. However, conflict can still arise as siblings have emotional connection to mementos like your mother’s wedding china set or your father’s beloved guitar.

One way to mediate a conflict over inheritance is to have a family meeting with a trained counsellor. Clear communication facilitated by a professional early on in the dispute will help everyone identify their feelings behind the inheritance and heirlooms in order to find an agreeable solution.

Have you had a conflict over inheritance? How did you resolve it? We’d love to hear your stories in the comment section or you can send it anonymously to lindsay.kwan@nscr.bc.ca.



Recommended Article: The Rise of the Male Caregiver by Sherri Snelling


“In 2009, according to a National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP study, men accounted for 34% of the nearly 65 million family caregivers in the United States,”writes Sherri Snelling. “But more recent surveys show the number of men in this traditionally female role has risen rapidly, driven by a combination of factors, including the recession, changing gender expectations and longer life expectancies.”

Are you a male caregiver? If so, this article will be of interest to you, to know that you are not alone. Sherri Snelling writes about how this rise of the male caregiver, perhaps can be partially attributed to the fact that more woman are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease than men, putting more men into the caregiving role for not only their parents, but also their spouses.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section.


7 Tips for Communicating with your Siblings

photo-1460518451285-97b6aa326961.jpgDid you read the July/August 2016 issue of The Family Caregivers’ Grapevine? In this issue we talked about the sibling relationship when caring for aging parents. The sibling relationship can be a difficult one to manage in crisis because old feelings and family roles may surface and hinder your best efforts to handle your parents’ care. Good communication is essential to ensuring that everyone in your family is on the same page.

Here are 7 tips for communicating with your siblings: 

  1. Express your feelings directly using I-statements such as “I feel overwhelmed with the responsibility.” You-statements such as “You don’t help!” can sound accusatory and incite a defensive response from your brother or sister.
  2. Avoid guilt-trips or passive aggressive behaviour when you perceive that family members could be doing more. It will only cause further harm to the situation.
  3. Evaluate whether your emotions are suited to the situation at hand, or whether they are the result of past battles or symptoms of burn-out.
  4. Be clear about how your siblings can help you as the primary caregiver. Make a list of everything that needs to be done to have on hand when you talk to your siblings.
  5. Accept the limitations of your family members in helping care for your family members. If your brother can`t leave Toronto because of his job, what can he do from afar?
  6. Keep communication open between your siblings through phone apps, emails, or phone calls. Make a schedule for communication and stick to it.
  7. Employ the help of a professional counselor before conflict gets out of hand. They can help mediate the situation so everyone feels heard and understood.

Do you have a tip to add? Please let us know in the comments.




Helpful Article: “Your First Appointment with a Psychiatrist, Are You Prepared?”

Karyn, the NSCR Caregiver Support Program Coordinator, came across this article called, “Your first appointment with a Psychiatrist, are you prepared?” by Natasha Tracy. Karyn said that the article “speaks to the lived experience of having mental health challenges.”

The author, Natasha Tracy, offers some practical tips to avoid the very common freeze feeling when people see a psychiatrist for the first time, especially if you are feeling some trepidation.


Some of the practical tips include:

  • Making a list of your concerns and examples of these concerns before your appointment.
  • Bring a loved one for moral support.
  • Write down what the Psychiatrist says in your appointment so you can refer to it later.

Here’s a quote from article: 

“Recently, someone wrote me and asked how to best handle a first psychiatric appointment. This is a good question because, essentially, people are walking into the vast unknown. If you’ve never seen a psychiatrist before, how could you possibly know what to expect? And, the kicker of that is, the doctor will be asking you why you’re there. So you’re supposed to know what to say when he says that. So how do you handle your first psychiatric appointment?” 

Do you have anything to add to Natasha Tracy’s suggestions? Let us know in the comments section.


“Don’t Give Advice to People Who Are Drowning” by Susan Macaulay

For anyone who has been told “Ask for help,” when you feel you are struggling to cope with your caregiver responsibilities, Karyn found an excellent article called “Don’t Give Advice to People Who Are Drowning” by Susan Macaulay, published on The Caregiver Network website.


Here’s a quote from the article: 

“Ask for help,” is a tip I’ve found on just about every Alzheimer’s dementia care website I’ve ever visited.

Imagine this:

A woman wades into the sea. She walks out from the safety of the beach. Suddenly the sea floor drops off and she gets caught in a powerful current. She starts to drown. People on the beach notice. A crowd of onlookers gathers at the shoreline. The crowd includes several lifeguards. Everybody watches as the woman drowns. “Call for help! Call for help!” Some of them yell at her, but no one, including the lifeguards, does anything. No one steps into the water. No one tries to save her. No one tries to help her save herself.

Ridiculous, right?”

Do you relate to this article? Please let us know in the comment section above.