Most of what is happening in our lives this week is fodder for my book-to-be but feels inappropriate to share here right now. We continue to be in flux about best next steps, when there is no good option. We signed papers on Sunday for a new residence for Mama, but are back now to the drawing board. The most important consideration is that we three sisters maintain a good relationship among ourselves. That is, in the end, our future. We have not yet reached consensus.
We all wish a change in where Mama lays her head weren’t necessary, but to my mind the only good option is not within our power or hers. It leaves a very mucky place in which to operate to find next best. Reality, practicality, emotions, and trying to foresee the future are all in that mucky yuck.
As I cared for my grandson this week, and as he played happily alone on the floor for the first time under my care, I was struck once more by how similar and how utterly dissimilar my two charges are. Mama’s loss of independence and cognition engenders increasing dependence on others as, at the same time, she demands untenable independence in a desperate grasp to save herself from the inevitability of old age. As Adrian’s mobility and cognition increase, he will also demand inappropriate independence (as, indeed, two-year-old Elliot is doing on a daily basis). But while both have similar needs of me now, Mama is spiraling down into complete need and Adrian is spiraling upward to self-actualization.
What I do know: it’s time for me to take care of my own living. What I have been doing is taking too big an emotional toll, and it feels like only a matter of time until it drifts into a physical toll. My relationship with each family member is suffering. My relationship with myself, my world, and my future is suffering. I have been wishing I had made a different decision three years ago and stuck with my original one-year commitment. But I was making choices then for my distant future and doing the best I knew to do at the time. Now I need to start taking good care of today, which very possibly will change what I had dreamed for my future. But aren’t we always making life altering choices? A dear friend once said, “When one door closes another one opens, but it’s hell in the hallway.” I’m ready to be looking for the new door and unlocking it.
Which brings me to this month’s National Caregivers Month. The theme this year is Take Care to Give Care. Here’s an excerpt from the National Family Caregivers website.
The first rule of taking care of others: take care of yourself first. Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, but it is also physically and emotionally demanding. The stress of dealing with caregiving responsibilities leads to a higher risk of health issues among the Nation’s 90 million family caregivers. So as a family caregiver, remember to pay attention to your own physical and mental wellness. Only by taking care of yourself can you be strong enough to take care of your loved one. You really do need to “take care to give care!”
- Caregiving can be a stressful job. Most family caregivers say they feel stressed providing care for a loved one. With all of their caregiving responsibilities – from managing medications to arranging doctor appointments to planning meals – caregivers too often put themselves last.
- The stress of caregiving impacts your own health. One out of five caregivers admit they have sacrificed their own physical health while caring for a loved one. Due to stress, family caregivers have a disproportionate number of health and emotional problems. They are twice as likely to suffer depression and are at increased risk for many other chronic conditions.
- Remember: “Rest. Recharge. Respite.” People think of respite as a luxury, but considering caregivers’ higher risk for health issues from chronic stress, those risks can be a lot costlier than some time away to recharge. The chance to take a breather, the opportunity to re-energize, is vital in order for you to be as good a caregiver tomorrow as you were today.
I’ve been good at taking care of myself over the past four and a half years, but it’s become almost impossible with Mama’s new need to have someone with her all the time. She is back to her pre-fall self physically, which is a tribute to her amazing resilience, but we no longer trust that she won’t fall, which is partly due to what has all appearances of being a decrease in cognitive abilities. Her continuing decline in vision makes most tasks impossible for her. Put simply, we can’t trust her to keep herself safe, and we can’t care for her at home again if she suffers another broken bone.
To family caregivers everywhere, and most especially to you who honor me by reading this blog, may blessings be heaped upon you and may your elders and your children, your friends and your neighbors, and especially your siblings rise up and call you blessed. Absolutely no one can understand all that you do or calculate your replacement value. Take good care of yourselves. Stop when you need to. Find your support. I thank you for yours to me.