Moving From Emotion to Reality

Some caregivers may be keeping promises to parents or spouses that they would never “put them away.” That’s a noble intent, and it’s a blessing when you can fulfill such a promise.  However, in spite of our best efforts to stop by my Mom’s more often, stay longer, do more of what was needed, etc., the day came when our family accepted that we could no longer care for our mother on our own. It was unsafe to leave her alone, and no one was in a position to leave their jobs or move her in with them. We would have to partner with some type of nursing facility for her care.   

We relied on help from Mom’s doctor to tell her that we had to find a placement for her right away so that she was safe. We did our research, met with directors, and had tearful tours of several facilities that had an Alzheimer’s unit. The one we selected arranged for Mom to come in for lunch; she thought it was social, but it was actually an assessment. We let her see another facility the same day so that she was a part of the decision-making process. Thankfully, she also selected the first one.

When the time came to move her in, we felt pretty much felt like parents on the first day of school. We were reluctant to walk away and leave her with strangers. Yet, we chose to not feel guilty for having to place her. We were not turning our backs on her, but became regular visitors who got involved in the center’s activities as well. Everyone’s situation is different; so not everyone will need to or be able to partner with an assisted living facility for the care of a loved one. But if that day comes for you, think about my mother’s words, “I’m not happy about it, but I accept it.” In time I learned to let go of the emotion and accept it as well.  

You Learn As You Go

I found that simple statement at the end of a journal entry in the book about my mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s – You learn as you go. Yet we sometimes wish we knew it all upfront, right? And how can we? There are some things that only life’s experience can teach us.

Even after mulling over research or implementing best practices, we find that being a caregiver can be trial and error. (And that’s okay as long as we are not talking about life-threatening errors.) For example, we may learn a better way to talk to those we care for because as they change, we find that we must change also. What worked yesterday may not be working today.  We find out how to better care for our loved ones as we peer into their faces and understand that they are more frustrated with the illness than we are.

Learning as you go can be beneficial. It takes off the pressure to get everything right all the time. This teaches us to be patient with ourselves and more patient with our loved ones. Keep learning, keep going – there are more lessons ahead to strengthen you and guide you.

Enjoy the Sunshine

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Here in Illinois, we are enjoying temperatures nearing the 60’s. This came after a nearly two-week period last month of freezing weather and repetitive snowstorms. Looking outside now, it’s hard to believe how miserably cold we were or how much snow and ice had recently covered our rooftops, streets, and driveways.

However, one caveat to the sunshine these past few days has been the strong winds that bring with them their own damage and challenges.  You can either hide from the wind and miss the sunshine or enjoy a walk in the sunshine and embrace the wind.

When I sat at my mother’s bedside the last day she spent on earth, there actually was a winter storm going on. The greater storm, though, was my internal one as I faced the reality that she would not live to see the next day. Rather than spending that time only crying, I began to minister to her. I cleaned and trimmed her nails, moisturized her skin and face, and cleaned and combed her hair. I also prayed over her, sang hymns, and read scripture to her. I reminded her that I loved her and told her that the family would be okay. It was a conscious decision on my part to ignore the wind and see the sunshine. I knew that she would soon be completely healed from Alzheimer’s, that her “winter” here would be done, and that she would soon know her name again.   Losing a loved one is never easy, but we all know that one day our role as caregivers will change. My hope for you is that you will see the sunshine in spite of the wind.

Reach Out and Touch…

My family was just discussing how scary the world is becoming. Day after day we hear news of senseless crimes that leave a trail of death or disability in their wake. The mother of an acquaintance I met recently through a friend is now grieving the loss of her son to highway gun violence. Needless to say, we are all also traumatized by the pandemic in some form or another.

Caregiving now takes on a new meaning and responsibility for each of us.  A friend, acquaintance, or loved one doesn’t have to be terminally ill for you to become a caregiver. Today’s trauma is teaching us that we need to check on others more often. And this may not be as serious as the police welfare check in which people involve the police to ensure another person’s safety.

This is simply caring enough to reach out to others yourself. Think of the many people who have limited contact with others because of the pandemic – especially those in nursing homes. Think of those you know who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 or to street or highway violence. How can you care for some of them? A card in the mail, a message via social media, or even an old-fashioned phone call to let someone know you care or that you are praying for them can really help others get back on their feet. This world has made all of us caregivers. We just have to find it in our hearts to take the time to make a small difference to a few people at a time.

🙋Your Turn- Are there 2 people you can care for this week?

Mend the Rifts

An entry I made in the journal I’d kept during my mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s related to an unraveling of relationships in our family. Although I hadn’t recorded the actual issues, the implications were that I was irritated at siblings that I felt could be doing more to help care for our mother. Even though we know we can’t change people, it sometimes still hurts that others don’t or won’t pitch in like we feel they should.

But instead of dwelling on what I felt was unfair, I remembered the advice of my youngest brother Jason that we should not let our mother’s illness cause breaks in our relationships with one another. That’s a little easier said than done when there may already be rifts in the family. Loving other family members doesn’t mean we have to like what they do or don’t do. We love them because we are family, and we mend the rifts for the sake of the person we are caring for. We also do it for our own sakes because it gives us one less burden to carry.

🙋Your Turn- How can you move forward in this?

Check Your Power

I get totally frustrated when my computer monitor is completely black – indicating that the computer may not be working. The frustration is multiplied when there is something I need to get done immediately. When this happened recently, I went through all the checks: everything was plugged in, the power was on, and I replaced the battery in the wireless mouse. Still nothing. It was time for plan B – go dig out the old monitor that I hadn’t yet disposed of and connect it to the computer. And it worked. So at least I’d traced the problem to the new monitor, not the system itself.

After I finished printing what I needed, I decided to try the monitor again before I took it back to the store to complain that I’d been sold a piece of trash. In moving the monitor, my finger touched a small button beneath the screen. I moved it to realize it was the power button; it dawned on me that I had inadvertently turned the monitor off when I’d rearranged things the day before while dusting. All my previous frustration could have been averted if I had simply checked the power on the monitor, not just the power on the computer.

When you become totally frustrated that things don’t seem to be working the way you want them to as a caregiver, or when you think that no matter what you do things will never change, stop and check your power source. Are you drained because you are pushing yourself too much? Have you stopped getting the rest you need? What about your energy level – are you eating what you need to sustain your health, or surviving on caffeine and sugar? Have you given yourself permission to step away from your load of caregiving and recharge? Do what you can reconnect to your power source so that you don’t lose hope.

🙋Your Turn- How will you recharge?

Shift Your Focus

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Valentine’s Day usually focuses on relationships between couples, so anyone who is not a part of a couple may feel slighted.  This year, however, let’s shift our focus to the love that exists within families. More specifically, let’s think about and appreciate the love a caregiver shows to someone in the family who may or may not be a spouse. This short video shows us how a sister loves and cares for her brother. https://videos.aarp.org/detail/video/5312257889001/regina-belle-on-caring-for-her-brother

🙋Your Turn- Who are you loving?

CELEBRATE SMALL SUCCESSES

Don’t you hate it when the scale in the doctor’s office adds 5 or 6 pounds to your weight? I understand the white coat syndrome that makes your blood pressure reading higher at the doctor’s office too, but it can all be discouraging.

I lamented the same to my doctor yesterday, and he only smiled encouragingly. Then he told me that as long as I am seeing progress on my scale, that it’s all good. Warning against fad diets, he told me that slow progress means I am making lifestyle changes that could be lasting rather than doing something drastic for a while, then quitting it and reversing the progress I had made.

When I consider this in the mindset of caregiving, it reminds me to celebrate small successes. I have to look for some small things such as how I may have changed my self-care, how I better managed my care for a loved one, or how I thought about my role and the responsibilities of caregiving. Such small, positive changes have the potential of leading to lasting change. A former pastor and friend used to say most people have a “microwave mentality.” That is, we all want change to happen immediately. And although lasting change is a slow process, it’s worth our time to celebrate the little successes along the way. After all, they will eventually add up to the big changes we want to see. 

🙋Your Turn- What small successes will you celebrate?

Take Something Off Your Plate

I used to love smorgasbords until I realized how much they helped me overeat. Of course, I also noticed others who loaded up their plates and couldn’t eat all they had. As the idiom says, perhaps their eyes were bigger than their stomach.

In other words, those with wasted food at the smorgasbord thought they could eat more than their bodies actually could handle. In a similar sense, the role of being a caregiver can become like that second trip to the buffet. It can become something you thought you could easily handle along with the other responsibilities you already have on your plate.

As an active volunteer in the church, I am often asked to assist with committees and events. But when I became a primary caregiver for my mother, I soon realized that I couldn’t take on any leadership roles or volunteer for anything extra at church. Since my job required frequent overnight travel also, I had to try to balance family responsibilities along with caregiving.

As much as it hurt to walk away from some of the things I love to do, I eventually learned to take some stuff off my plate and to not feel guilty for saying no. If you are in the position where caregiving has taken a prominent role in your life – a sort of entrée – then you will need to carefully examine the other courses and sides you are tempted to add on. Make it your goal to be at your best by having a more balanced lifestyle.

🙋Your Turn: How will you begin to take the “extras” off your plate?

Move From Doing to Being

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By now you may have become a well-oiled machine doing all that caregiving requires: check the meds, make the appointments, change the bed, arrange for meals. On and on it goes. Yet, in all that you are required to do, there may be a small shift that needs to happen.

I had to learn how to “be with” my mother rather than just “do for” her. This was a concept I learned from the book, Caring for Your Aging Parents by Richard Johnson. People like me keep ongoing mental checklists along with the written ones to make sure nothing is forgotten. And that’s helpful; but as Johnson explained, at some point you have to actually be with the person you are caring for.

Put aside all the things that are pressing for a moment, and just be with them. Look at your loved one more closely; consider what they may be feeling, hold their hand and just enjoy the relationship. For people who have Alzheimer’s, you may be meeting a new person each time you visit, but find a way to make the time with them more important than the work that has to be done. As others have said far more eloquently than me, dust will keep.

Your Turn: What’s one thing you will do to “be with” your loved one?