I recognized her instantly – a fellow caregiver with the heart of a dreamer.  Someone who strives to decipher a meaning and purpose within the serious challenges that life throws our way. 

Ozioma Egwuonu is a wise woman who presented to listening caregivers during CareNovate Magazine’s recentIMPACT80 Virtual Summit.
Ozioma described her mother’s cancer in heartbreaking detail.  This was a loving daughter who is and always will be bereft without her Mom.  But Ozioma did not hide away her grief – she used it to learn personal lessons about resilience and balance in the life of a long-term caregiver.
Here is a snippet of Ozioma’s wisdom:
1)    BREATHE  
Often, caregivers enter their new role holding their breath.  A life-threatening diagnosis or a catastrophic event in the life of a loved turns the world upside down.  It’s a primal reaction to breath-hold in such times of chaos and panic.   So, Ozioma says, “Breathe.  Breathe WITH your loved one.  Engage in practices that allow YOU to breathe easier.  Life is going to happen as it is supposed to happen.”

BREAKTHROUGHS: In the life of every caregiver, there are epiphanies; moments of major realization.  Ozioma suggests that we ask ourselves, “What am I learning?  How does this lesson translate to other roles I have in my life?”
BREAKDOWNS:  When things go terribly wrong, Ozioma advises caregivers to cry together with their loved one.  Breakdowns are inevitable and sharing them is the way to move forward.  “You are not at odds with your loved one!” Break down can also mean to pull apart intentionally.  Ozioma suggests that caregivers make a habit of breaking down responsibilities into goals and from there, into small actions.  In her talk, she reminisced about constantly having a pad and pencil in hand, ready to make notes about how to turn a gigantic challenge into a reasonable to-do list.

“Hold your dreams together for yourself and for your loved one.  Ask yourself, ‘what is essential here?’  Allow time and space for both your dreams and your loved one’s needs.  Sometimes, the balance of those is tipped to one side.  But when the crisis eases, go back to your dreams!” Ozioma held on the dream of building her own business throughout her caregiving journey.  
Part of achieving balance in the face of sometimes very painful and chaotic circumstances is determining what is essential.  Ozioma suggests the following technique. 
Create an Effort List
Fold a piece of paper in half every morning.  On the first half, write, “Where do I need to place my effort?”  On the second half of the paper, write, “What role do I need to play?”
Example:  Effort is ‘calling doctor to receive test results.’  Role to play: ‘loving nurturer’
Another example:  Effort is ‘cleaning the apartment’
Role to play is ‘the singing street sweeper’  Thoughtful imagination is the rule here!

Believing in caregiving starts with one, simple question – “What if I knew that I was capable?”  Asking yourself this questions allows you to believe that you ARE capable of meeting any challenge life throws at you and your loved one.  Ask too, “What if my loved one was capable of giving me something every day?”  Believing in personal capacity is the key to a healthy ‘care eco-system’.   

Ozioma suggests that every caregiver can be an innovator.  Capability in caregiving means inventing new ways of giving care.   It means inviting and enrolling others to participate.  By keeping the focus on creating an enjoyable caregiving journey from beginning to end, it is possible to inspire allies.  But, says, Ozioma, it is important to accept everyone as they are.  Each ally will have different gifts and unique contributions.  Using the body as a metaphor, not everyone is an arm!  But those who are willing will have something to contribute.

I am inspired by the 4 Bs – Breathe, Break, Balance and Believe.  I hope you are too.