AARP Eye Center
There cannot be a crisis next week.
My schedule is already full.
Today’s 65 million caregivers often find themselves pulling their hair out as they find their lifestyle dramatically altered by the constant challenges involved in caring for a chronically ill, disabled, or elderly loved one.
Forget trying to plan a vacation as a caregiver, it is usually a major event just to go to see a movie! Starting out each morning anticipating the “crisis du jour,” we caregivers frequently throw our hands up in exasperation at trying to schedule and reschedule things. With the daily bombardment of medical and caregiving issues, is it possible to carve out breaks to improve our overall well-being? It doesn’t require a trip to Italy or an exotic island beach - but is it too much to ask for a quiet cot in the corner with no one bothering us for a couple of hours?
In the context of caregiving, feeling better about ourselves is not a selfish and egocentric pursuit. A relaxed, self-confident, and emotionally calm caregiver almost guarantees that his/her charge will receive better and more consistently loving care. If the loved one is not cognitively impaired, the relationship can even deepen when a caregiver feels rested and refreshed.
Every caregiver needs time off - but guilt, obligation, and fear can often shelve breaks. Carving out “downtime” is paramount to serving as a good caregiver. I know your loved one suffers - so does mine, but you and I can’t change that fact - nor will we help them if by driving ourselves until we’re nothing but a husk.
Doing this for nearly thirty years helped identify three simple ways that each caregiver can immediately implement to enhance their lifestyle with minimum (if any) costs - yet reap tremendous benefits to lighten the load: Laugh, Leisure, and Leave.
Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally
without having to go outdoors.
Although humor can often serve as a bit of a shield to stave off painful feelings genuinely funny moments in even the direst of circumstances can surprise (and delight) us.
I once heard a story about a beloved church leader from a small congregation who passed away following a long illness. As a tribute and gift to the widow, the music minister offered to enlist the choir to sing the man’s favorite song at the funeral. Inquiring from the bereaved woman, the music minister was surprised to hear her name her husband’s favorite song as “Jingle Bells.”
Double-checking with her, she emphatically stated that his favorite song was indeed, “Jingle Bells,” and expressed great gratitude that the choir offered to sing her deceased husband’s much loved song at the service.
Recognizing that his offer committed him, the music minister assembled the choir. With sales skills rivaling the best salesman on the planet, he convinced the church choir to perform “Jingle Bells” at the funeral, which took place in June.
After the eulogy, the choir stood up and belted out, “Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh ...”
As the assembled crowd of family and friends looked on with puzzlement, while dressed in summer attire, the embarrassed (but committed) choir sat down feeling as if they did the best they could for the grieving widow.
Later at the grave, the music minister passed by the man’s wife, took her hand, and once again gave his sincere condolences. Tearfully thanking him for the music, she quizzically looked at the music minister and remarked, “I loved all the hymns and songs, but why did you all sing “Jingle Bells”?
Wide-eyed, he replied, “You stated it was his favorite song.”
With a sad, but sweet grin, she put her hand to her mouth, and laughed. “Ohhhh, I am so sorry. I meant, “Golden Bells!”
Sometimes humor meets tragedy in strange places. Our challenge is to expect and enjoy it.
With a vast spectrum of comedic tastes to choose from, pick one that makes your sides split. Seinfeld to Foxworthy, Andy Griffith to Tim Allen; a host of comedians compete for our amusement, so let’s take them up on it! Watch a funny movie, catch a stand-up comedian on television, and/or read a hilarious author. In doing so, you can feel the stress melt off your heart. Caregiving is serious business; but life can be whimsical; go with it - and lighten up a bit.
Laughter gives us distance.
It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.
Have some fun; take a break. Sometimes it is possible to enjoy things with the person you are caring for, but most of the time, even the “fun things” become work for caregivers - who have to help a loved one have a good time.
Most caregivers don’t seem to want “over the top” entertainment. In fact, 100% of the caregivers I’ve met express a desire for a quiet, restful place to be alone with their thoughts and/or not have to worry about someone else for a brief moment.
When I get a break, I feel time slows down for me. Although I travel a lot, I don’t mind it so much when I’m not taking care of another person. The TSA seems nicer, airplane food tastes better (what little there is nowadays), sunsets are prettier, birds sing more, and the list goes on. It’s not that I am happier per se, but rather I slow down and enjoy the little things and the quiet moments.
The abilities and stability of caregivers increase with regular rest and leisure. Even God took a Sabbath rest. Free time means just that: FREE time. It is our time to do what relaxes us and improves our state of mind and body. Wrapping our entire beings into our role as caregivers taxes the love we have for our charges. “Caregiver enmeshment” saps our identity, creativity, and sometimes even our ability to focus.
“You Deserve a Break Today, So Get Up and Get Away …”
Honestly, we have to get some space. It doesn’t have to be at McDonald’s necessarily, but we caregivers need to get away on a regular basis.
For the first 40 surgeries Gracie endured under my watch, I used to stay nearly around the clock with her at the hospital.
Before we married, Gracie underwent her twenty-first surgery, but it was the first one with me. Although newly engaged, I had not yet “gotten my feet wet” as a caregiver, and several family members watched to see how I would “handle” the pressure. The surgeon met with the family following the procedure and assured everyone that she was fine, but would be in recovery for some time. Breathing a sigh of relief, we all smiled at each other, until I did the unthinkable: I went to a movie to blow off some steam and relax.
I later learned of the gasps and disapproval by some of the women gathered around. One of them was the mother-in-law of one of my relatives, and had no “skin in the game,” but she felt it her duty to properly evaluate my behavior and hold up a scorecard as if she served as an Olympic judge during a diving contest.
While I took a break and enjoyed myself at the movie, the judgment piled higher - as the group seemed to revel in how I “just wasn’t up to the task.”
A friend pulled me aside to share all this with me, and I mistakenly acted contrite to get into good graces with everyone. My instincts, however, were exactly right, and I wish I’d listened to them more. Gracie had a whole team of nurses and doctors, and only required my help AFTER those professionals were no longer available. For a one-time event like a broken arm or something, this principle doesn’t necessarily apply. Issues stretching over years, however, are a “game changer.” When help is present, take advantage of it by leaving the premises and allowing fresh air into your body and soul. Caregivers require regular breaks - preferably without being criticized by others.
While I’m at it, I developed a policy about people who criticize how I handle caregiving issues and decisions: The length of time I will listen to someone criticize, is in direct proportion to how much time the critic spends helping.
If you like that policy, you are welcome to use it, and I hope it helps stave off those who simply want to carp.
As with every area of a caregivers life, I also have a 1-2-30 reminder. I knew I need something simple jog my mind when the hand-grenades of life seem to explode around me, so I came up with something as easy as 1-2-30. For example, when taking care of your health:
· 1 annual flu shot
· 2 well visits per year with your doctor
· 30 minutes daily of some kind of physical activity.
For the lifestyle of caregiver, I do the following:
1 “Something” for yourself every week.
Catch a movie, golf, go to a museum, ride your bike, go fishing, etc. Do one special something for yourself every week. If you need someone to sit with your loved one while you take a break, call your church. If your church won’t help with that, ask a friend - and then change churches.
2 Weeks’ annual vacation from caregiving.
Most likely, you can’t do this at one time, but by spreading it over the year it is roughly a day/night off every month. Yes, it may mean asking for help from others. Church leaders and/social workers can help find a person who could help, or even find some money to pay for skilled care of some type (RN, LPN, CAN, etc.) to stay overnight while you get out of town for a night or so. Most services that offer something like that run around $15-20 per hour (depending upon location). Although that sounds like a lot of money, there are ways around the costs. The challenge for caregivers is to make the commitment to care for ourselves, and watch the resources appear. Experience teaches me that it’s not a lack of resources, but a lack of resourcefulness that prohibits progress.
Money of course is a consistent issue, but the local church is a network of professionals and volunteers who can bring a wealth of aid to any situation. A well-informed pastoral staff knows the ones in the church who are struggling with long-term and/or extreme caregiving, and can connect the right resources, ask better questions, help map out a plan of care, and provide a much needed support network that targets long-term care issues.
30 minutes a day with something humorous
Television is full of sitcoms. Somewhere in all of that programming, there are laughs waiting for you. Go get them. If television is not your thing, load standup comics onto your I-pod, and listen to them while going for a walk, and kill two birds with one stone (or, like Chuck Norris, you can kill two stones with one bird!)
For the frugal, your local library has all kinds of things just waiting for you to check them out! Find something that makes you laugh for thirty minutes a day! I download to my phone a free app of jokes that just make me howl with laughter. Granted, amusing me is not difficult, but the benefit is a better disposition and a little lighter outlook.
Everyone has a sense of humor, even God. Caregivers may require a bit more help cultivating theirs.
These are inexpensive and easily implemented suggestions that can have an immediate positive impact on your life - right now. Caregiving is hard, wearisome journey that can really cramp a lifestyle. With these few ideas, you can inject a lot of sunshine and fresh air into a dreary situation. By doing so, the one you love benefits from a healthy caregiver - and you as the caregiver give yourself permission to live a more meaningful and joyful life.
Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers.
And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be,
you can survive it.
Peter W. Rosenberger is the president of Standing With Hope – a non-profit prosthetic limb outreach to amputees overseas. Standing With Hope recently launched an outreach to caregivers that draws upon Peter’s vast experience as a caregiver for his wife, Gracie, for 27 years through her now 78 operations, multiple amputations, 60 + Doctors, 12 Hospitals, and $9 million in medical costs. He hosts a weekly radio show on Nashville’s 1510 WLAC for caregivers. His newest book is Wear Comfortable Shoes-Surviving and Thriving As A Caregiver. For more information visit http://www.caregiverswithhope.com