A Peace in Caregiving

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A few weeks ago, I abandoned the idea of dragging the Christmas decorations down from the attic this year.  I love Christmas and all the “stuff”, but for the first year ever, I couldn’t find the spirit or energy.  No tree, no decorations, no gifts.  Just one single Poinsettia plant that my father-in-law insisted that we buy.  And for the most part, the boys are okay with my anti-celebratory mood.  They know that I am the one who must do all the work, and they understand my feelings this year.

Our house is quiet today. It’s just the three of us here.  In some respects, it’s just another caregiving day.  The calendar may say one thing, but the routine is the same as this day last week.

So as I sit here reflecting on this day, it occurs to me that we are like the little Who people in Whoville.  There’s a Grinch that lives above us on the mountain.  He’s a different kind of Grinch that has stolen from us before.  He has stolen the health of my beloved husband.  He has stolen the lives of his two sisters that bravely fought and lost battles with Muscular Dystrophy.  Thankfully, my husband is still fighting and refusing to quit. The Grinch has also stolen time with friends and family away from us. We don’t travel and we are basically shut-ins.

So here’s where my story hits a positive note.  We all know that Christmas will come with or without the gifts.  After all, it’s in our hearts, right?  A couple days ago, a very sweet lady from our church, who knows our situation, brought us some cookies, some fruit, and some kindness.  This morning, my sister brought us some ham and lots of vegetables for lunch tomorrow.  The kindness had reached me.  Somehow, the spirit of Christmas had found me even after I had tried to hide it.

The fictitious Grinch can take many things away from us as caregivers, but the spirit of Love and Hope is always with us.

Tomorrow may be a quiet day.  There won’t be a huge family gathering with children everywhere.  There won’t be an appearance from Santa.  The three of us will have good food and we will have each other.  That kind of Christmas gives me a feeling of Peace.  Yes, we will be okay.

As we celebrate the holidays, I wish you that same Peace.  The Grinch will always try to steal things from us.  It’s the spirit of Love that he cannot take.  Yes, all of us will be okay.  Let the community of caregivers say, “Amen”.

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Is Your Caregiver Battery Charged?

 

Just like a battery, a caregiver can only last so long on a single charge.  When the caregiver is not at full charge, the quality of the care will also be substandard.  At some point, even the best caregiver on the planet will surrender.  Consider the times that you have been at the edge of collapse.  You want to throw your hands up in the air and give up.  We’ve all been there.  What do YOU do now?  My advice is to re-charge that caregiving battery.

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For as long as we must be caregivers, it is our responsibility to be faithful to the role.  Whether we be paid professionals or unpaid family members, the caregiver must honor that role to the best of their ability.

My caregiver role is for my wonderful husband who has Muscular Dystrophy and his very sweet elderly father.  It’s my responsibility to keep both of these men happy and healthy.  I have embraced this role and I will own it for as long as necessary.  We use a pager system in our home as a “call button”.  My husband and his father both have a push button attached to a cord that they keep with them inside the house.  I have the larger box that will ring if either one of them pushes their pager button.  At some point, I began referring to the larger box that I carry as “The Mama”.  When I am away from the living room, I announce, “I have The Mama” and we all know what that means.  If either of these men need me for whatever reason, I will hear the bell and return in a matter of seconds.

So is it any wonder that I gave my call signal it’s nickname?  There are many similarities between a great caregiver and a great mama looking out for her babies.  There’s no mountain I won’t climb and there’s no river I won’t cross to protect them.  I am “THE MAMA”.  I am strong and powerful when fully charged.  I am the distributor of all things that nourish.  I want my “babies” to be healthy and happy.  However, I am also very vulnerable and weak when I am tired and pushed to the edge.

So how do you know when your battery is weak?  How do YOU identify this critical moment?  If you don’t know, it’s your responsibility to find out when the “green light” on your spirit has changed to a “yellow light” and take action before it becomes a “red light”.

greenbatteryMy laptop has a pop-up window when the battery is almost gone.  That’s my warning to plug it in or the laptop will shut itself down.  Likewise, you should be attentive to your body, mind, and spirt to find the help you need before that battery goes “red”.  Caregiver burnout is real and it will shut your body down before you realize the danger.

Because we are all individuals in different caregiving roles, there is no universal answer about how you should re-charge.  The individual caregiver must find the unique answer that works best.  Some people love to read.  Some people love yoga or exercise.  Some caregivers are able to take long weekends away from home.  Others find therapy in temporary escapes like doing crossword puzzles or word searches.  You must find the hobby or distraction that works for your caregiving battery.  Do not overlook the power of community, family, religion, or spirituality to connect with the supreme power in your life.

Self-care is essential to your own preservation.  Your caregiving battery must be charged when needed just like any other battery before life shuts you down.  acrylic-1323646_1920People are depending on your power to be a magnificent caregiver.  Be prepared with a plan to re-charge when needed and you will always be an awesome and empowered caregiver.

 

 

One Year of Caregiving

I have been lucky to find a caregiver support group that meets once a month. This small group of 6-8 members has been invaluable to me. I can be away from home for about an hour and a half at a time, so this time out of the house has become very sacred to share experiences and to know that I am not alone.

Last month, a professional counselor came to our group and shared information with us that I was not prepared for. It’s her belief that for every year you spend as a full-time caregiver, you (the caregiver) will age three years.  Umm. Wait, what did you say? Three years? That hit me hard like a ton of bricks right in the face. What a realization that was.

You should know that it was Christmas of last year when it became apparent that I must leave my job to stay at home to be full-time caregiver for my disabled husband and his father. And it has now been one full year of caregiving.  It’s an anniversary to remember the days of dressing my husband, preparing our meals, assorted toilet adventures, and sponge baths. I really do feel three years older on this anniversary.  As I reflect on this past year, the counselor’s words echo in my head when I think about the physical, mental, and emotional toll of caregiving.

The evidence of this toll came in the form of a list.  Last week, I had my annual physical with my primary care physician.  For the first time in 52 years, I went prepared with a list of symptoms.  My general aches and pains were signs of a tired and frazzled caregiver.  My doctor is a wonderful and sweet man. As he reminded me of the importance of “self-care”, he allowed me to shed a tear as he removed his medical hat and put on his psychology hat while I rambled about caregiving for a few minutes.  He even gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant that sits on the table and stares at me while I decide if I will actually get it filled. I’ve never taken this kind of medication before, so I’m reluctant not knowing what it will really do for me.

I’ve resigned myself to asking for the anti-aging cream in the big gallon drum container.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel like putting up Christmas decorations, or maybe I won’t. Christmas is in my heart and will come even if I don’t physically drag everything down from the attic to commemorate it. I think God will understand.

Regardless of whether the years are measured on a calendar or by the wrinkles on my face, I must pace myself and take care of myself FIRST in order to serve others. I hope you will practice self-care, too.

I wish you Peace and Hope during this Season of Love.