“Here your glasses are, Ms. Perry.” Another student would have located the eyeglasses I had left someplace as I walked around the classroom and stopped to see something written on the blackboard. Constantly having to take my glasses off let me know it was time for a change.
History says that Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals because he got tired of having to keep up with two pairs of glasses. So, he created glasses with two half lenses: the top lenses let him see objects in the distance, and the bottom half helped with reading.
One of the first things a caregiver has to realize is that things are not as they used to be – either for you or for the person in need of your care. Because we naturally appreciate what we know and what is most comfortable, we may spend too much mental time recalling what the loved one used to be. Recalling pleasant memories is needful, but if that’s the only lens we use, it can be detrimental.
What could be more productive is to see what is directly in front of us and tell ourselves the truth about where a loved one is now in terms of their health and abilities. Wishing they were what they used to be will serve no purpose. The good thing about today’s bifocals is that there doesn’t have to be an obvious separating line between the lenses. Progressive lenses may actually be trifocal by helping you see far away, middle distance, or close up. For those who use progressive lenses, the eye can make the change from one distance to another gradually without you even knowing the change is taking place. Your brain just makes the adjustment.
As you continue caring for others, adjust your lenses as needed. Face what is directly in front of you as you treasure the far away memories of the past; then continue to look through lenses of love and reality as you give care to others.
When I first began my role as a caregiver, a dear colleague gave me advice that turned out to be a tremendous help. Marti had been the primary caregiver and guardian of a relative for many years. Her advice was to carry my mother’s medical records with me at all times and to keep them updated.
She was kind enough to email me her form so that I could alter it to meet my needs. Marti was right in saying that during medical emergencies when you may be emotional, the record is a valuable resource for all the questions you would be asked about your loved one’s health history and the meds they are taking. I’ve even had receptionists at the hospital ask if they could keep the form for their records.
You can find free personal medical record forms on AARP.org or through a google search. Adapt one to include whatever information you need to support your loved one. I would also use the form to record any medical incidents that occurred, any changes to my mother’s care, or her general health. (Actually, I’ve started using the form to keep a record of my medical history as well.) As a caregiver, you can lighten your load by finding, using, or accepting and sharing tools that will save you time and lessen your worry.
🙋Your Turn- Feel free to share any helpful tools you use by replying in this space.
When this slang expression was started nearly 20 years ago, it meant that you were moving too fast, and you needed to slow down before you got into trouble. I’d like to use it to mean you need to step back, breathe, and reflect. What better thing to do as we look forward to the start of another year?
What has your year been like as a caregiver? If you were new to this role, you may be feeling as though you’ve been on a treadmill where someone keeps increasing the speed without your knowledge or permission. If you’ve been on this road for a while, you may feel competent at the increased speed because you’ve learned how to handle it. Yet, there may be a secret wish that you could slow down just long enough to catch your breath.
While the actual responsibilities of caregiving may not change, you can slow your roll by reflecting on what has gone well this year. Not everything has been out of your control, and there are some things that went well which you may be able to duplicate for the upcoming year. We sometimes forget when we have been successful because the points of failure seem to loom larger than life and like water rolling downhill, we find ourselves settling in our low points.
I encourage you to not settle there, but to remember what has been good, what has gone well, and what has made you smile. Slow your roll.
🙋Your Turn: What are the good things you will duplicate for the new year?
This morning one of my nieces asked for input on her logo. Businesses use logos to identify their brand or their image. It started me thinking about the need for personal logos, which would be mottos.
A motto is defined as a short sentence or phrase that summarizes the beliefs or ideals that guide you, your family, or an institution. Someone may simply call them, “words to live by.” Businesses call them slogans in that they are meant to be readily recognizable and motivational. Here are a few you likely have heard before:
We try harder
Yes, we can
Like a good neighbor, – is there
You’re in good hands
When you care enough to send the very best
As a caregiver, you are operating out of a belief system that you may not even have put much thought to. You are naturally providing the care and nurturing that is needed for a loved one or a friend without stopping to think why. Your caregiving is a gift that you are giving to someone else as often as they need to receive it. It may be worth your time to consider why you do it. Once you’ve done that, try putting these words you live by into a concise statement that identifies who you are and why you do what you do. You will find that your motto can become a source of encouragement for the times when caregiving becomes hard and you feel like giving up. You can say it to yourself, make it into a sign you see daily, or even shout it out loud when you need to… and it will be just the motivation you need to keep going.
🙋Your Turn- Feel free to share the motto you created by replying in this space.
We have all been challenged by marketers this season to find ‘the perfect gift’ for another person. And what would be the perfect gift for a caregiver?
It would be to say to them, “Thanks for all you do, or for all you have done.” I had such an opportunity last week when an in-law passed. She had been loved and cared for by her family since her birth fifty-seven years ago. She had been diagnosed as being severely developmentally disabled due to cognitive impairment. Her parents continued their in-home care of her as long as they lived; but for the past 18 years, one sister was the primary caregiver. She was blessed to have siblings who rotated weekend care and provided financial support as needed. Yet, this one sister actually gave her life for another when she moved into the home and took over the day-to-day care of an adult who required the same care you would give a toddler.
Therefore, I felt obligated and even privileged to be able to acknowledge to this caregiver that her sacrifices had not gone unnoticed. Although I don’t know all she had gone through, I knew that she had been faithful and loving in caring for her sister and had included her in all family events. The best gift I could give her was to say to her, “You were such a blessing. You did an amazing job.”
It’s right there on the inside of the coffee mug I use almost every day even though it’s chipped– “Love the moment.” This mug is a treasured gift from a close friend I lost to pancreatic cancer ten years ago. In addition to thinking of her often, I read the saying on the cup and try to imagine why she gave me this particular one. I believe I know. She wanted me to slow down, look around, and be at peace in the moment.
That’s a hard thing for a caregiver to do. So much can be happening and changing in our responsibilities that we may feel like a circus juggler without the skills, and we know some things feel like they are crashing to the floor. That’s when loving the moment can come in.
Stop. Find a quiet place to rest, and focus on what is going right at that particular moment. Ask yourself, “What is true right now? What is good right now?” And as you find those answers, take a few more minutes to think about the answers you came up with. Will the problems magically go away? Certainly not. But for a brief time, you loved the moment you were in; you embraced the goodness in your life, and you took a deep breath. Now you can go on.
🙋Your Turn- What are some ways you can “love the moment” in your role as a caregiver or in life in general?
I am almost done with a jigsaw puzzle that has over 1,000 pieces. I can’t wait to see the finished product after the hard work that has gone into turning pieces this way and that way to match colors, edges, and patterns. Although the puzzle was new when I received it, I pray silently that there is not a piece missing. You see, we all like it when things come together as they should – when everything is in its place.
But what about when things aren’t? What about when there’s no answer for why someone is sick; and if the sickness is prolonged or terminal, we may even question why we have to be the one to shift our schedules and our lives to be a caregiver. My former pastor would always challenge the “Why me?” question with “Why not me?” It may be time to walk away from the puzzlement and the questioning of it all and just accept things as they are so that you can enjoy the journey.
🙋Your Turn – What are the questions I can walk away from to give myself greater peace of mind?
For years now, I have used Thursdays as my thanks-giving day. That is, I set aside time to say thanks in prayer each Thursday rather than ask for things or wait for the annual holiday to show my gratefulness. I spoke once before of looking at the glass as half-full, and I’d also like to share part of a thanks-giving list I created not long before my mother died from Alzheimer’s. Looking at her strengths rather than her weaknesses at that time, I wrote that:
Her health is still relatively good
She can walk and talk
She can feed herself and has a good appetite
She accepts taking her medicine
She entertains others with facial expressions
She still holds her head upright and watches things around her
She still responds in a way that lets you know she understands
She’s still my Mom
🙋Your Turn: What can you put on your thanks-giving list as a caregiver?
You simply cannot fix everything, no matter how hard you try. My husband took notice of my tireless efforts to make everything right when I was caregiving and juggling all the other responsibilities I had at the time. He told me repeatedly that I was not superwoman. Once I began to think seriously about what he meant, I had to accept that some things were just out of my control, and that I could not do everything. For example, my mother’s periodic medical challenges or the changes in her personality took place unexpectedly with no thought for what was on my calendar. I especially had to learn that I could not change others who were slack in their familial responsibilities in caregiving. Nor could I make up for what they were not doing. As I practiced putting my cape aside, I began to focus on doing what was in my power to do. That helped me to be consistent in my support and to accept whatever the day would bring. What would you consider the hardest thing about taking off your cape?
It’s so easy to lament all the things an Alzheimer’s patient has lost, and that’s mostly because the issues are staring us in the face. Everyone’s journey is different, yet some of the observable losses in those suffering from this disease include progressive inabilities to use the phone, handle finances, select proper clothing, or actively engage in conversations. Despite that, caregivers can make a conscious effort to look for and celebrate even small things that a loved one may still be able to do. I remember the surprise and joy I felt watching residents who were non-verbal join in weekly sing-alongs I conducted when I visited my mother. People who did not know their names or what day of the week it was could easily recall verses and tunes to songs they had sung decades before.
This video shows how Paul Harvey’s son focuses on the musical ability that his 80-year old father still has, and how that impacted the lives of others when he chose to see the glass as still being half full. I’d love to hear your thoughts once you see their story.