I have several friends who have recently loss their spouses or a parent, and at the end of an oftentimes long, exhausting, and heartbreaking journey, they find themselves stepping into the role of a caregiver once again. Most of us have more than one parent. We have in-laws. We have other family members who a struggling with everything from cancer to mental illness–and disease and the aging process doesn’t care whether you feel like caregiving. It doesn’t take into account that you just spent the last two years in and out of hospitals, rehab, physical therapy and all the less than fun but necessary activities that engulf your life. Caregiving can show up in your life (and probably will) at the most inopportune time.
What do you do?
Do you say no to a loved one who may have little, if any, options? Do you (can you) say, “no thanks,” I’m still grieving/need to take care of my own health/financial needs right now/I’m an completely bone dry and have nothing to give???
No. You probably don’t say, “Caregiving again? I’ll pass.”
Before you jump into caregiving again headfirst, I ask you to take a deep breath.
You’ve learned a thing or two.
You know all too well just how sucked in you’re about to be.
You know all too well the wild world of prescription screw-ups, back-to-back doctor visits, 2am ER stints, botched lab results, infuriating insurance issues, and the dreaded orange vinyl chair hospital nights that somehow lead to hospital weeks.
So use what you know.
You might need to and want to say yes, but do you have to say yes to everything?
Do you have to move in/or they move in with you?
Are you prone to ignoring your own health/financial/relationship needs?
Are you afraid of what’s going to happen to you and your life if caregiving takes yet two, three more years of your life?
Don’t get me wrong–I am a 100% advocate of caring for our loved ones.
I firmly believe that family (for the most part–there are always exceptions) should care for family and then that care ripples out from there–church, friends, extended family members, hired or volunteer care) as needed. I ache at the thought of family members who simply can’t be bothered to miss a day of work, or can’t give up a weekend to make sure that their loved one’s legitimate needs are met. As a caregiver inspirational blogger and speaker I’ve heard lots of folks who have sisters/brothers adult children and others who refuse to contribute to family care, but I also see folks who give too much, who never say no, not even to a demanding, dramatic person who expects to be the center of everyone’s universe.
What I’m speaking of is to glean from the wisdom that comes by experience.
Reflect back on your previous caregiving time.
When did you give too much?
When did you ignore your own health issues, relationship or career issues?
Does that continue to effect your life?
Do you have a plan for meeting your own needs while caring for others?
Are there things/people you lost you can’t get back?
Did you care-give at times when it wasn’t truly needed to the extent that you gave?
Are you now able to speak up when you need to?
Can you step back and look at the whole picture–and count “you” into the equation?
Can you say no when you need to and not fall into a quagmire of guilt?
Honestly, being a caregiver the second time around can be a good thing.
How, you ask?
You’re not flung here and there by drama and trauma.
You don’t think doctors and medical personnel are demi-gods that can never be wrong and should never be confronted or disagreed with.
You know that you have to step back when you feel so drained that resentment, anger, and exhaustion threaten to strip you of all reason and ability to care for anyone, particularly, yourself.
Caregiving the second time comes with the quiet realization that (in some situations) your loved one will die.
It’s tough to say that word, die, but that’s what we do. All of us. Someday.
So, caregiving…again, means that you’re not so scared.
You make this time mean something.
You can’t keep them alive, you know that this time, but you can make life sweet.
You can provide companionship.
You can be their advocate, their voice.
You can honor their wishes.
You can make sure they get the pain medications they need.
You can be present when it’s time.
I wish, for you, that if you’re just getting out of a caregiving situation, that you would have a break. That you’d get to attend to your own life for a little while–and even have some fun–but we don’t always get to decide when caregiving will circle back around. But I do know that you have changed–so trust that you will know what to do.