Many years ago my daughter Astrid brought home acurly-haired, black, pavement-special little mongrel puppy and named him Raffie (after Rafiki in the Lion King). Typical of cross-bred dogs Raffie grew into a loving, loyal house-friend. However, there was one thing that Raffie loved to do that my wife, Wanda, and I found very frustrating. We love having birds in the garden but Raffie was forever chasing them away. We would put up birdfeeders and Raffie made sure the birds never came close to them.

One day, as we were sitting on the stoep, Raffie proudly walked up to us with the tail feathers of a bird sticking out of his mouth. Wanda and I freaked. "Raffie, what have you done?" Raffie just looked at us with imploring brown eyes, opened his mouth and deposited a very much alive and uninjured young Jan Frederik bird on the floor.  It had fallen out of its nest and was not yet old enough to fly. Raffie had taken pity on it and brought it to us to care for.

We put it in a box, fed it and gave it water. After a few days we placed it in a secluded part of the garden where it hopped and fluttered about with Raffie watching on with concerned eyes. Within two or three days it was able to fly up to a low branch and, soon after, it flew off. He was the first of many baby birds that Raffie found and brought to us. Some did not make it, but most survived.

Raffie is no longer alive but his memory remains. To me he epitomizes a gentle spirit. For me the best definition of gentleness is "contained power" - power kept in reserve. Raffie could have chewed up the little birds and we would have shrugged our shoulders and said; "It is his nature" But he did not. His compassion kicked in and gentleness took over from his animal nature. How often don't we see this in animals? The hippopotamus that saves the young zebra from a crocodile? The spirited Arabian stallion carrying a four-year-old little girl on its back. Power contained.

My point in all of this? Care givers potentially have immense power over those they care for. And those being cared for are not always the easiest people in the world to associate with. Our dependence on carers and carers' frustrations with us can so easily lead to carers doing little (or not so little) things to us, just to get back at us; to show us who is boss,who has the upper hand. Not enough to get fired, but just enough to needle us.

Dear carer, when you get the urge, remember Raffie,and make the decision to be a gentle spirit, even if your heart urges you otherwise!  - George Louw

Loving through the care-giving world with grace and ease is no simple skill. However, having good manners will carry you a long way. As a caregiver we spend our day interacting with family members, friends, and everyone on the Care Team.

Common sense tells you that the people you are closest to warrant an extra measure of consideration. It takes good manners to sustain the love and respect between caregiver and care-receiver.

Do's

  1. Encouragefamily members and friends to show respect and deference to the care-receiver. For example, the care-receiver's visitors should be treated politely as honored guests. Noise from the TV, radio, etc., should be kept to a minimum. Thecare-receiver's rest hour should be respected. Telephone messages should becarefully taken, and mail given to him/her unopened.
  2. Preserve the care-receiver's feelings of independence. It is important that the care-receiver have control of her/his own money-as long as she/he is capable ofmanaging it.
  3. Use your imagination and put yourself in the care-receiver' shoes. Be understanding and find a way to harness your frustrations.
  4. Focus on the care-receiver's needs and not your own. Talk to your parent. Try to understand how he/she sees it.
  5. Let go of unreasonable hopes. Recognize that your parent won't or can't change.
  6. Express warmth and concern toward the care-receiver. This is especially important when the care-receiver has a poor self-image and many feelings of inferiority. A good caregiver must provide reassurance.
  7. Be a good listener. Many times the care-receiver may simply want you to listen.
  8. Smile alot. Be a good friend and companion.
  9. Keep confidences. Avoid repeating matters that will not be welcomed by others.
  10. Maintain your self-composure and avoid stress. Practice your coping skills in order to maintain your composure and balance.

Don'ts

  1. Don't treat your parent like a child. Even if your parent reverts to childlike behavior, he/she always needs to be treated with respect and dignity. As the parent's dependence increases, it is natural for adult children to find themselves unable to communicate in familiar ways.
  2. Don't criticize the care-receiver for occasional forgetfulness and other signs of growing older.
  3. Don't take sides with other family members in disputes or arguments. It is better to be known as someone who is fair and non-interfering.
  4. Don't let an angry situation become emotionally or physically abusive. Step out of the room for a cool down. Seek outside help.
  5. Don't neglect the care-receiver. Make sure your parent gets to all appointments, takes medications as scheduled.
  6. Don't discourage the help of others. There can never be too much help.
  7. Don't assume that the care-receiver has nothing to contribute.
  8. Don't compare what you are doing to what everyone else is doing. Every job in a caregiving situation is important.
  9. Don't underestimate the power of touch. As people age or their illness progresses, there is less human contact. A hug, kiss or pat on the shoulder can enhance the situation.
  10. Don't treat your parent/ family member like an alien. When there are several persons in the room, be sure to include the care-receiver in the conversation. Do not talk about him/her in the third person as if he/she wasn't in the room.

A good caregiver is genuine and cares about the dignity, welfare, and feelings of their care-receiver. Good manners are based on good character, which translates to kindness and compassion.

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