Care Giver Stress: Laugh to Keep from Crying with Charlotte Canion



Care Giver with Charlotte Canion on CathyKrafve.comAlzheimers? Parkinson’s? Dementia? Oh, how these words that strike fear in our hearts! With many people caring for aging parents or a spouse, how do we handle the guilt, anxiety, or even depression that goes with being the care giver?

Care Givers Need Help, Too

In fact, as care givers, we can set such high expectations for ourselves that we may feel like a walking failure, even as we do our very best. Of course, we expect Mom or Dad to experience negative emotions because transitions are hard, especially as their autonomy recedes. Yet, there are plenty of unpleasant surprises for the care giver, too.

“I have a friend whose father got arrested because they didn’t know he had Alzheimers,” says Charlotte Canion, expert on care giving and author of You have to Laugh to Keep from Crying: Parenting Your Parents. A popular speaker and trainer, Charlotte offers four main principles for keeping your heart healthy as you care for the aging people you love. 

Charlotte’s Four Principles

“My book is written around love, respect, patience, and forgiveness,” says Charlotte, “What I want to point out is we need to love them unconditionally, but we also need to respect them as the parent they were.” Even so, she says that respecting their current capabilities may mean some creative thinking on your part. For instance, since her mother sometimes brought up inappropriate topics, Charlotte learned to carry chocolate kisses in her purse.

“Mom, you want some chocolate?” Problem solved!

Forgiveness is Costly, But Unforgiveness Cheats Everyone

Since Charlotte is such a joyful, enthusiastic proponent of caring for the aged, you might suspect it was easy for a gal like her. Unfortunately, she knows more about forgiveness than she ever wanted to know. Tenderly, she shares of a crisis that developed in their family because her dad molested her daughter as a small child. 

“Never in my wildest dreams, I never dreamed that leaving my kids he would do something. It never crossed my mind that you couldn’t trust your parents,” she says, “Of course, (after the incident) I kept my daughter away from him.” With self-compassion, she shares how angry and hurt she was. Even knowing better, as feelings of false guilt attacked her, she wondered if there was anything she could have done differently. Sadly, years went by as he recused himself from the family.

Later, when her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, she struggled to reconnect with and care for him. Yet, with deliberate fortitude, she made a decision to help him as much as she could in spite of her lingering hurt and anger.

“I hadn’t quite forgiven everything. About 3 weeks before he died, he asked to see her daughter and they agreed. “We came to the nursing home and he apologized to my daughter and I for any harm he’d ever done.” With his tears and apology, the conversation freed both Charlotte and her daughter. 

No matter what else happens in a family, she emphasizes the importance of extending love, respect, patience, and forgiveness to ourselves, too, as we take on the complicated job of being the caring giver. Charlotte’s workbooks are used by churches and Alzheimers groups across Texas and beyond, so I couldn’t wait to ask her my questions on Fireside Talk Radio recently.

Charlotte’s Tips for Coping with Care Giver Stress

  • Fortunately for us, she offered an excellent list of care giver list tips when mom or dad or your spouse is faltering:

    #1 Understand your stress (anxiety, depression) is real. 

    #2 Do what you can do in that moment to the best of your ability.

    #3 Develop your own personal techniques for coping.

    For Charlotte, learning to cope with the stress was unavoidable in her fourteen year journey, which included taking care of her father-in-law, her mom, and her dad. Simultaneously. In those years, she patched together a personal system for taking care of her own mental health, including:

    • Check out the tremendous resources available out there.
    • Find a trusted person to debrief you. 
    • Join a Care group.
    • Offer to lead a group in your church or community.
    • Listen to and collect other people’s stories.

Learning to Laugh

She says it’s important to realize that you need your own personal system, too. Additionally, learning to laugh will take the sting out of some of the tricky situations that can develop. Naturally, exercising your sense of humor will reduce your parent’s stress, but it also reduces yours as well. In addition, Charlotte emphasizes that, as a care giver, it’s important to play with your loved ones.

“I used to bring a box of dirt and plants,” she laughs. In fact, Charlotte and her own parents had so much fun and success with gardening that she still teaches facilities how create raised gardens.

“The herbs can be used in their kitchen to make the elders feel useful,” she says. For example, gardening, reviving favorite hobbies, or playing games gets their mind off their worries. Of course, remember to play something easy and relaxing. 

As care giver, you can even include your kids and grandkids in the process, perhaps as story gatherers.

“Simple flash cards, like with colors and pictures, can spark memories and stories,” she says. Adding that grandchildren often treasure their elders’ family stories.

“I’d give anything in the world if I could the story again,” she adds about a special story her mother told repeatedly.

“Reconnect or stay close to your parents in their last days. Whether it’s six months or six years, create those new memories. Those new memories are what sustain us, on beyond after they’re gone,” she concludes.

To find out where Charlotte will be speaking next or to order her book, which includes a wonderful guide for knowing if you’re making the right decisions for your parent, click here. For more from Charlotte, please click here to find the two podcasts we did together.

May I pray for you?

Dear Father, please notice Your beloved child today. Give us the love and respect we need to build wholesome families. Help us practice patience with our elders and those who are infirm. Strengthen our care giver hearts for this crucial job today and give us energy. Most of all, O Lord, we need You to show us how to forgive. We look to You, the One who forgives every sins, if we but ask. We rejoice in Your love and goodness, dear Lord. Bless us now because it is Your pleasure to do so. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

We love to hear from you!

What stories can you share to encourage others? How has forgiving someone come back to bless you? Which tips do you recommend when people ask for your advice about caring for the care giver?

More Stories and Wisdom to Bless Our Hearts

If you’re a care giver and searching for ideas, we can help. Joyfully, we’ve interviewed experts; they’ve shared their stories and wisdom just for you on Fireside Talk Radio: Robyn Boyd, Susan Elsworth, Sasha Vukelja, Colleen Long, Frankie Picasso, Marina Schroeder, Katie Butts, and many more. 

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