A friend of mine’s mother recently passed away. His father, who is a farmer on a remote Limpopo farm, remarried within three months. The local community and family were up in arms. When my friend asked his father why he had forgotten his mother so soon, his father replied, “Son, I miss your mother more than you will ever believe, but the loneliness was unbearable. In the evenings when the house and farm workers returned to their homes, that’s when it hit me, and it was soul-destroying”. This got me thinking?

I hear of so many quadriplegics and other people with disabilities whose spouses leave them because emotionally, they cannot cope with their partner’s disability. Many people with disabilities move into communal homes with caregivers, while others choose to stay alone in their own homes. In these cases, a caregiver is essential. But a caregiver is not a commodity; a caregiver is first and foremost another breath in your space. And reciprocally, you are another breath in the space of your caregiver. Your loneliness is also the loneliness of your caregiver.

However, I need to state the obvious here - I am not advocating a lovers-relationship between you and your caregiver to replace your spouse. But, I am advocating a loving relationship where mutual trust and respect is cultivated. One where caring is mutual. A caregiver that becomes a colleague or a friend makes for a lasting relationship. When you decide to start interviewing for a caregiver do not employ the first able-bodied person that you meet.

Here are a few tips on how to interview for a suitable caregiver that could grow into a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. They will also assist you by not having to go through the interview process repeatedly. Make two lists; on the first list write down your own characteristics (get help from a trusted friend that knows you well.) The second list should comprise of your expectations of the type of person with whom you could strike up a lasting relationship; not just pandering to your likes, but also someone who will put up with your shortcomings.

Know what you need

Get clarity on the types of duties you require to be performed and the hours you expect the caregiver to work. Do you require additional services such as housekeeping, cooking, gardening, driving, etc?

The physical ability of the caregiver is determined by the nature of your disability. Someone with a nice personality and no physical strength won’t necessarily be able to lift you from your bed to your chair.

A caregiver with the ideal emotional and psychological makeup will also be able to cope with the emotional drain of looking after a person with disabilities. Know what you want.

Do you prefer someone that is quiet and reserved, or upbeat and bubbly? Know what you are prepared to give.

Decide on your conditions of service: include issues like free time and relief helpers, board and lodging, etc.

Decide what is allowed and what is off limits. Protect yourself legally and practically
Legally: Always sign a contractual agreement that is legally binding in terms of the laws that govern the employment of a caregiver. Agree on a probation period with a skills and abilities evaluation.

In good relationships such contracts remain filed away, but if things turn sour, the contract becomes invaluable to both parties. Practically: Have contingency arrangements in place for sickness or unforeseen absences of the caregiver. If the caregiver is aware of these contingency plans he/she will be less stressed about your care. Mutually beneficial.

If all of this sounds a bit like purchasing a car, nothing can be further from the truth. These steps serve not only to help you find an excellent caregiver who is perfectly suited to you, but they are also aimed at finding a caregiver that will be able to put up with your quirks and aberrations.

In addition, your caregiver will also benefit and grow from their relationship with you. Any relationship is a two way street that requires nurturing, caring and love - flowing in both directions.