Care for the Caregivers
Family life has development life cycles and mine moved into a new life cycle these past few months. My dad, who functioned independently for 80+ years, suddenly wasn’t in that place anymore. It crept up slowly on all of us. Maybe it was more obvious to those of us on the outside, than my mother who was on the inside taking care of more and more tasks. Or maybe it was more obvious to her and she just wasn’t saying it. But suddenly my mom was not in the place of being a partner to her spouse as much as being the major caregiver to her spouse.
Her six children watched it happening. We tried to fill in the gaps, help with the things we could, as we watched mom work to maintain life as normal as she could as she picked up more and more of the tasks. It first started off with mom needing to do all of the driving, but slowly it became other things. My father, who has always been meticulous about his paperwork, his finances and his outdoor tasks suddenly didn’t have it in him to even look at those tasks. His work centered on walking, keeping his balance, talking, eating and having the strength to make it through his physical therapy sessions.
We are all concerned about dad as he makes his way through this difficult time because life has changed in a way that no one could ever be prepared for. We see the bewilderment and fear in his eyes as he wants to say the things that he can’t express. His eyes say it. This is another whole part of the journey to be discussed. This is where the focus naturally goes, where the discussion naturally falls, how we all go to sleep at night wondering what we need to be doing more of to make it right for dad. But we also have to wonder how to help mom see that she has to put herself on the list of priorities. She has to take a moment to sit down and rest, eat a good meal even though she isn’t cooking for two, do something nice for herself even if it is just sitting down to read a quick chapter in her devotional, or taking the time to have a nap herself. Without her taking time to fill her bucket, she can’t be there for dad or anyone, let alone for herself.
It is easy to see how caregivers get lost in the shuffle of life when life becomes more difficult. Today you think you have a pretty good handle on how you are balancing life as it has been something you put in the forefront of your priorities always. You make it a priority to take care of yourself and do self-care things. Then life happens and before you know it, crisis after crisis has come in and as you respond to them, one after another, you suddenly realize, you are tired, haven’t really eaten a good meal for days. Heck, you haven’t even really taken a good drink of water. Your vitamins are sitting in your cupboard. Your exercise regime has been out the window for months. You have just been where you needed to be to make sure the person you love is being taken care of in a good way. Anxiety and depression have slowly crept their way in as you become more and more depleted, worried, and tired.
If you find yourself on the list of those who aren’t doing good self-care in the name of being a good “caregiver”, consider the fact that without the caregiver, the other person would really be hurting. Without the caregiver, the other person is going to really be lost. Without the caregiver, the other person may not have a good advocate in his/her life. So the caregiver has to put him/herself on the list of care! This can be done by setting some boundaries. Decide how many times you have to work out in a week, how many glasses of water you have to drink, how many good meals you will eat a week or how to simply but make sure you are getting good nutrition and how many hours of sleep you have to have. Give yourself times you will go out with a friend and just have a good time, a good laugh, or a good moment. Sit down and write it out. Set up the schedule. Get your date book out and put your schedule in there for you. Don’t waiver. Because what you do for you, you do for the person you care for. What you do for you, you do for all who love you. No one can take care of you like you can take care of yourself. When you are in good order, there is some energy left to do something for those you love. You are of better physical and mental and spiritual stamina, better cheer, better health and better energy. And that will go directly to the person who needs you the most. So get your date book out and put yourself on the priority list, even if you start with baby steps such as drinking your daily intake of water today.
Tags: Care for the Caregivers, Caregiving, self care when it is hard
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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