No matter how well you plan, what you read, whom you consult, how patient you are, and how hard you try, caregiving doesn’t always go well. Health issues may not respond to treatment. The senior may not cooperate, and if their brains aren’t broken, you can’t do much about that. Even powers of attorney and guardianship documents don’t affect seniors’ behavior. As painful as it will be, sometimes, you’ll have to step back and let a situation play out.
In my coming book “Dear Lauren, Love Mom: 31 Days of Affirmations for My Daughter, for Myself, and for YOU,” the first entry is Resilience. Dr. Cynthia Henderson was the first person from whom I heard, “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Lose your rigid expectations. Be proactive with the question “What if this doesn’t work?” and ALWAYS have a plan B.
My grandmother, Eula Cothran always said, “There’s no SHOULD; there’s only IS.” Don’t waste a second grieving about what should have been. Direct all of that energy into handling the situation that presents itself. My kids always grouse that I go into problem-solving mode too fast, without giving people leave to be angry or hurt. I do know that if you don’t deal with your feelings, they putrefy in your spirit and erupt later to destroy relationships. BUT I truly believe: deal first; fall apart later. You can prevent falling apart through Resilience. You can also continually access the support of friends, family, other caregivers, and behavioral health counsellors, but deal with the problem.
A friend told me that her mother had come to a family function wearing filthy clothes. When confronted, her mom had said, “Oh, that’s just a little spot.” My friend was shocked and embarrassed, but she totally missed the flashing, neon sign that her mother needed help. I asked, “Would she have done that when she was 50? 60? A few years ago? “My friend had not been ready to see that it was time to assess and intervene.
Once you allow yourself to see problems and you accept caregiving responsibility, your life changes forever. For the rest of the elder’s life, her needs will be in the top portion of your TO DO list (along with everything else.) Caregivers have agreed with me that many of the changes last even after the senior passes on. I explore this further in the “Life After Caregiving” chapter in the new edition of TO SURVIVE CAREGIVING, coming in November 2015.
Despite short and long-term caregiving challenges, you can’t put yourself at the bottom of the list. You can’t concentrate on protecting the senior’s health, finances, security, and comfort without protecting the precious resource that makes all of that possible: YOU.
For every person in the nursing home, there are four or five in the community with the same level of illness and disability; they can stay in the community because of caregivers. You provide about 80 percent of the care seniors get in this country. You do this for free, but the assessed value of that care is more than Medicare and Medicaid pay professionals and facilities.
You are a valuable resource. Generate some joy for yourself every day. Have regular times with friends, date nights with your lover, and take a dance class, or a trip to the beach. It’s self-love, not selfish, but if you can’t tell the difference, look at it this way: you’re really doing it for your senior. You’re protecting her caregiver. If something happens to you, what will happen to your senior? I knew a 58 year-old caregiver who died, leaving two 80 year-olds behind. Don’t let that happen to your family.
Despite the challenges, there are many days of joy, fulfillment, and even fun in caregiving. Don’t miss those days. Be resilient and accept that God always answers prayer; sometimes, the answer is “NO.” After you’ve done all you can, you may have to just stand, plan what you’ll do when you get the dreaded phone call, and take really good care of yourself.
This is the last post in the Prepare to Care Series, but I know you have more questions. Contact me through www.drcherylwoodson.com. The series will post again on LinkedIn and join me for Straight Talk with Dr. Cheryl at www.blogtalkradio.com on Sundays at 8am. Photo: copyright Brackette F. Williams, PhD. She is my sister-in-law and the primary photographer for the Affirmation book.