My personal “Middle Ages” brought work at two nursing homes and one retirement community, as well as the decline and demise of both parents and a beloved aunt. These experiences highlighted, up close and personal, the situation of a long term relationship in which one person loses previously normal physical or cognitive function. Always painful, but some pairs adjusted better than others. Caregivers who adapt best all seem to use the following tactics:
1. Let yourself grieve:
What a huge loss! Not only of the functioning, companionship, and assistance of the other person, but also all hopes and expectations for the future, free time and travel plans, customary work and activities, probably other, enriching relationships, and so much more. People who cope best give themselves the kindness of respecting their loss and letting themselves grieve.
2. Seek out support:
Fortunately, there’s now a range of resources to help. Googling “Caregiver Resources Near Me” here in our wonderful Pacific Northwest brings up an array of options you never imagined. If you live in Seattle or King County, the King County Caregiver Support Network functions as a screening and clearing house to even more.
Here’s where COVID-19 has actually brought an advantage: So many appointments and meetings now take place online, you can save the time and demands of attending in person. You can probably join a group that addresses your specific needs, even if the convener lives on the other side of our continent. Although support groups may never have “been your thing,” they provide a valuable blend of emotional support and practical advice that may benefit you now.
Never felt the need of therapy or professional emotional support? Life is now so different and this may be a good reason to start. (Fees for many services are on a sliding scale.)
3. Accept informal help:
Many of us delight in helping others and take secret pride in not having to ask for help ourselves. It’s time to let go of this pattern! Consider that, in addition to getting the informal help you need, you’re offering others the satisfaction of providing help. Expect a tinge of grief here, too, for two reasons: You’re no longer the help provider, and “things” won’t get done in exactly your way. Consider creating your own personal mini-ritual to release these expectations.
4. Pay for services:
If you are financially comfortable, it’s probably because you worked hard, saved, and spent carefully. The thought of paying for services you’ve always done for yourself may annoy you. This new life situation is the “rainy day” you saved for. Hire out those tasks you least like to do.
5. Take care of yourself:
As your loved one’s most precious resource, you are responsible for keeping yourself healthy. In addition to getting emotional and practical support, do whatever you can to exercise regularly. You don’t need to read an article to know that your stress hormones have increased and exercise can help you manage them.
6. Recognize beauty in your life:
Beauty comes in all permutations, from birds chirping, to how the chocolate sauce slides down ice cream, to a baby’s smile. Look for it.
7. Do one act of self-love every day:
You are living love in caring for your challenged person. Love yourself, too.
Judy Ruckstuhl Wright worked in nursing homes and a retirement community for eight years, during which she befriended and learned from many admirable residents and their family members. She now lives in Seattle, near a daughter willing to guide her care if and when necessary.