Caring for the Caregiver
by Candy Arrington
Two weeks before my mother’s ninetieth birthday, I received a phone call that tipped the scale on the delicate balance I’d maintained in caring for my mother, my family, and meeting writing deadlines.
“Candy, I’m pulling up your lab results. There was an abnormal reading,” my doctor said.
“It’s probably my cholesterol.” It had been several years since I’d had lab work, and I assumed I could guess the results.
“No, actually, it’s your kidney function. You’re in the early stages of kidney failure.”
“Are you kidding?” I held the phone receiver away from me and stared at it like it was an alien object.
“I rarely joke about something this serious.” My doctor’s voice boomed through the receiver.
Within days, I sat in the waiting room at a kidney specialist and underwent a battery of tests. I also got word that my mother, who was in a care facility recovering from vertebra surgery, was now suffering from vascular dementia after a fall and would be moved to the “memory unit.”
The four years prior to this point had been a rollercoaster ride of caregiving that included my mother having a series of falls, fractures, heart issues, doctor visits, emergency room vigils, surgeries, and hospital stays. As an only child, I was my mother’s caregiver, decision-maker, financial-juggler, supporter, and encourager. In the process of taking care of her and trying to maintain a normal routine, I’d ignored my own health. Now, I no longer had that option if I didn’t want to end up adding trips to the dialysis clinic to my already burgeoning to-do list.
Here are some tips caregivers need to know to protect their physical and emotional health while serving others:
- Realize your limitations. You can’t serve as a caregiver and continue the same level of activity you maintained in “real life” without jeopardizing your own health and sanity. Caregiving is exhausting physically and emotionally. Acknowledge that and lower the expectations you place on yourself and the demands you allow others to heap on you. The one you are caring for may view you as super-human; or family members, who don’t want additional responsibilities, may guilt you into doing more than you can handle. It’s especially important to scale down expectations during holidays. While some family members may grumble, institute new traditions that limit preparations or ask others to host family gatherings.
- Let go of perfectionism. Now is a good time to let go of perfectionist tendencies. Trying to do everything to perfection in multiple roles is a sure recipe for frustration, exhaustion, and defeat.
- Ask for and accept help.Remember, you don’t get any brownie points for doing everything on your own. Some people get a rush out of everyone talking about how much they do and praising them for all they are managing, but this can quickly turn into a form of pride. Don’t deny others the joy of helping you. They wouldn’t offer if they weren’t sincere. In accepting help, you are not admitting defeat. You’re allowing others to do what God is leading them to do.
- Ignore criticism. Often someone emerges spouting myriad suggestions and criticizing your efforts without offering practical support in return. Other times, you are your own worst critic. Reject criticism—theirs and yours—and pray for wisdom to carry out your caregiving duties to the best of your ability.
- Don’t project the worst. When you encounter lots of different caregiving situations, it’s difficult to avoid having your mind immediately go to the worst-case scenario based on previous experiences. But each caregiving hurdle is different so look for positives before you decide to believe the worst.
- Maintain spiritual nourishment. With the many tasks and responsibilities of a caregiver, it’s easy to reason there is no time for spiritual connection. But this is the time you need it most. Carve out time to read the Bible and pray. You’ll gain strength for the journey.
- Utilize organization. When you begin serving as a caregiver, you quickly realize how much management and organization are involved in successfully doing the job. While a haphazard system may suffice for a while, eventually you have to designate some time to organizing, and notebook format is a great way to make this happen. Downloadable sheets to help you set up your own notebook are available at www.whenyouragingparentneedscare.com/forms.html.
- Embrace rest. It’s important to step away from your duties occasionally. Others can fill your role while you rest and regroup. Many communities have a palliative care network. Unlike hospice, palliative care is available at times other than end-of-life situations. Taking time to rest will make a big difference in your energy level, mental and emotional well-being, and prevent potential health problems in the future.
My mother died three months after the phone call that alerted me of the need to care for myself. While there were many challenges associated with caregiving, I’m thankful I was able to spend those years with her. I learned things about her life and faith that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Caregiving is only for a season. The journey won’t last forever so enjoy small blessings along the way and praise God for providing the patience, stamina, and courage necessary to face each day and each new challenge with grace.
Candy Arrington is a multi-published author whose writing provides support, encouragement, and practical advice, often on tough topics. Her publishing credits include Focus on the Family, Thriving Family, Clubhouse, Living with Teenagers, Encounter, The Lookout, The Upper Room, CBN.com, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and numerous compiled books including Chicken Soup for the Soul—Healthy Living Diabetes and the Cup of Comfort series. She is coauthor of When Your Aging Parent Needs Care: Practical Help for This Season of Life (Harvest House Publishers) and AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B & H Publishing Group). In addition to her writing, Candy teaches at writers’ conferences, speaks on various topics, and does freelance editing. A native South Carolinian, Candy lives in Spartanburg with her husband, Jim. They have two adult children. She has just finished overseeing the renovation of her childhood home, a house constructed in 1951 by her builder father.