“How do you care for your mom every day? How do you deal with Alzheimer’s day in and day out? How do you not give up? Doesn’t caregiving get to you”
Have you ever been asked any of those questions? You don’t really have an answer. You just do it–you get up each day and you do what you need to do, what has to be done. Most caregivers are far from perfect, and they might want to walk away, but they don’t.
In my book, Mothering Mother, I recall one of my favorite fantasies. When my mom’s Alzheimer’s was really bad, or when her Parkinson’s made it impossible for her to walk, I’d imagine myself dying my mother’s hair and dropping her off at the emergency room with a note pinned to her lapel, “Feed me Klondike Bars.” Then, I’d get in my car and drive straight to Key West. I’d change my name to Flo and become a salty waitress with no family and no responsibilities. I’d witness the golden sunset each night in glorious Margaritaville.
That one fantasy kept me from losing it some days. It was a mental release and silly as it sounds, it kept me from doing something I’d really regret!
When I was a sandwich generation mom, I was busy taking my mom to a slew of doctors, dealing with her telling me how to raise my children, and fighting so hard to keep my mother up and walking and communicating while dealing with Parkinson’sand Alzheimer’s. In retrospect, I did the best I could. We did the best we could. Caregiving is not about being perfect. It’s about showing up.
So what did I learn that I could pass on?
- Choose. If you’re going to care give, then choose to do it with integrity.Caregiving asks something of us, and if we do it with a grudge, it turns toxic. Each day, make a choice. Choose to see the good. Life’s not fair, and death and disease happen, but know that you have a purpose. The only thing you have control over is your attitude, your perspective. Lay your head on the pillow each night knowing that not only did you give that day, you also received.
- Pace yourself.As I’ve said in previous blogs. Caregiving is like running a marathon–with a bear chasing you. You have pace yourself, find a rhythm, not burn out–but you have all those fears, those hurts, those regrets–those are your bears. Stop trying to outrun them. Turn around and face them. They won’t eat you alive. You can’t know how long you’ll be a caregiver. Some people go into it sentimentally. They think the “end” is months, perhaps weeks away. They pour themselves into the role…and five years later they wonder what happened to their life. Have short range and long range goals. Take care of your health, your relationships, and your life.
- Cultivate and protect your tender heart.Become a team. Remember that song, “You and Me Against the World”? It’s so, so easy to be bitter, cynical, and so exhausted that you’re on the verge of depression and serious illness. You can hate–and love–being a caregiver at the same time. It’s okay to admit it, but separate caregiving and disease from your actual loved one. Practice manners. Make yourself smile and hold hands. Laugh with each other at the crazy twists and turns. After awhile, you won’t have to force yourself. Keeping a tender heart is in many ways, selfish (it also makes you a whole heck of a lot nicer to live with). It keeps you young (metaphorically speaking). It keeps you healthy. It’s the Type A personalities who are bitter and cynical die quick and hard.
I truly believe that with these three secrets in hand, you can caregive longer and with joy and purpose. Yes, you’ll occasionally get off-center, lose your way, fall into the grumpy doldrums–but you’ll self-correct sooner.
Choosing each day to care with integrity.
Pace yourself. This may take awhile, so make a plan and make sure you’re (your health, relationships, and life) are a part of that plan.
Protect your tender heart. It’s too easy to give into negativity, but that’s one miserable way to live.
I hope you’ll leave a comment and share your own caregiving secrets.