What do a grandparent’s trip to Disney World and the practice Elder Law have in common?  They both involve stress, trust, and joy.  I’ll try to explain.

Confusion about the elder care system creates stress for caregivers.  When families hire us, we ask them to put their trust in our staff’s experience dealing with the system’s procedural details, which can feel overwhelming.  Even in the midst of coping with Alzheimer’s disease, we try to help family caregivers recognize opportunities for joy and laughter.

Our commitment as a caregiving family’s guide through the elder care system requires empathy to share what a family is experiencing.  We act as caregiving surrogates when we manage the paperwork for government benefits and help with advocacy with care providers.  Occasionally, the responsibilities we take on for our clients’ families become heavy, and we plan a time of personal respite, which we advise caregivers to be necessary for them too.

My wife and I recently took a vacation to Disney World.  The process of unpacking our stress, entrusting details to others, and finding joy in unexpected moments was symbolic of how we ask caregivers to approach the elder care adventure with us.  Delegation of responsibility is not always easy, but doing so can demonstrate wisdom and open the door for a fresh perspective.

As a child, I sent postcards to get travel information and learned to read maps to help plan family camping trips across North America.  I have become an accomplished travel planner, whether it has been to lead students on whirlwind day trips through Manhattan or drive 5,200 miles in a fourteen day loop around Denver to share the wonders of the Mountain Time Zone with my family.  Executing a well-synchronized vacation seems natural to me, so letting go of the logistical details is scary.

A friend was challenged by his board of directors to discover the most important purpose for his non-profit organization.  His introspection led to a realization that sharing joy with those who are served should be his organization’s primary focus.  The ability to share joy is a profoundly valuable gift, and I aspire to be as good at sharing joy with our clientele as my wise friend is within his organization.  When I felt the need for respite, I realized that what I really craved was a “joy refill.”  I imagined the possibilities of observing my wife with our grandchildren at Disney World and was delighted to learn that my daughter’s family could join us.  As I considered our trip, I realized that much had changed since my last visit to Disney, and I felt confused by all the opportunities available.

Realizing that my daughter has more opportunity to compare notes with other young parents about what my grandchildren would like, I decided to trust her to plan the vacation.  Because I was busy, the act of planning a Disney trip could have been added stress for me.  My daughter claimed to have inherited my vacation planning genes, and my being able to trust her with the details allowed her to prove it.  I was rewarded with having less stress, and the Disney trip was an enjoyable adventure.

In the middle of the extravagant Disney attractions, we managed to find joy in somewhat unpredictable places.  Some of the Disney playgrounds stimulated more smiles than the most elaborate rides.  Seeing our granddaughter beam as a storybook princess hugged her and signed her autograph book was worth waiting in line.

Lines for the most popular attractions can be avoided with a Fastpass, which is the Disney ticket to allow a guest to jump ahead in the line legally.  As an Elder Law team, we help our clients to shortcut the process of waiting for government benefits in ways that sometimes seem too good to be true.  It felt good to trust my daughter and son-in-law to work the Disney system so we could magically enjoy the benefits of waiting in shorter lines.

When family caregivers come to our office for an initial consultation, we encourage them to put their trust in our staff so that, at the end of their initial appointments, they can leave many of their family’s worries on our table along with the financial and care-related paperwork we ask them to leave behind for our review.  We want to hear their collective sigh of relief before they leave our office.

Building trust is the basis of our ability to help families the way we believe is most important, but we strive for more than that.  It would be unrealistic to want the process of being a family caregiver of an Alzheimer’s patient to be enjoyable.  Nevertheless, we can and do encourage opportunities for family caregivers to discover moments of joy and laughter.

We tell family caregivers that the focus of our concern is the best interests of the older person(s) in the family.  It only makes sense that the family caregivers will feel better if we can save money, shorten the waiting lines, and manage the logistics of the elder care adventure. That is important to the older persons who are our clients because when their families feel less burdened, they can be at their best as caregivers and advocates.

Some people are joyful by nature. My wife is gifted in that way. With the help of others and with intentional respite activities that are more routine in occurrence than a special trip to Disney World, I balance my nature, which is obsessive with issues and options, and manage to keep my joy reservoir at a healthy capacity.

What are you doing as a family caregiver to unload your stress? Are you getting the guidance you need? Do you can have moments of respite which help you feel receptive to discover opportunities for joy in unexpected circumstances during your family’s elder care adventure?

Dave Nesbit
Attorney