Unchosen Journeys: Caregiving (Part 3)

This is not the story I thought I’d be living. 

And yet here we are. 

What can be done to help the caregivers around us? How can we protect our health and well-being as we care for our families? What can we do to make caregiving sustainable? 

Here are a few ideas

  • Reading/listening to memoirs and others’ experiences. This normalizes the experience. It helps expand our thinking about options and possibilities in decision making. It can prepare us for turns our journey may take. It can help us feel less isolated and lonely. It can give us language for our experience. This can be books, audiobooks, podcasts, movies, documentaries, meeting with others who have or are experiencing caregiving.
  • Everyone needs a safe, confidential space for encouragement, support and discernment. That can be a support group. That could be regular appointments with your pastor, a spiritual director or a counselor. Caregivers need a place to be cared for. They need a space to say the things they are worried about. They need a place to release and unload their emotional weight.
  • Try not to make promises. Have conversations; you can be positive and affirming. You can assure the care receiver of your love and your intention to care well for them. Promising they can die at home; promising what you will never do or will always do can lead to difficult situations over time. There may be unforeseen circumstances that make it impossible for you to keep a promise and the stress/guilt/pain that comes with that is an added layer you don’t need to carry. 
  • Keep in front of you a key question or the priority: What matters most? In this situation what matters most? When faced with a set of terrible choices, what matters most? When I reflect on this experience, what will matter most? How might that magic question help you make choices you can live with in the midst of hard times? 
  • Embracing limits/Asking for help. The reality is that caregiving will likely go on longer than you anticipate and will be harder than you expect.
    • Allow others to do the things they can do (meals, transportation, lawn care. Laundry, cleaning) to preserve your energy for the things only you can do (potentially drs appointments, financial matters, personal care, companionship/relationship roles). 
  • Anticipate/plan ahead (we usually admit we need help once we are drowning). Have lists and ideas about what the next steps will be. Gather resources so you know who to call when you need more help.
    • What waitlists might you need to be on so that when you need that support service it is available to you? 
    • Have conversations with the care receiver and your family. What are their preferences? 
    • What are some if…thens that are helpful to think through now? 
    • What are the markers or thresholds that precipitate a change or next level of support? (Like what needs to happen to decide we take away car keys? What level of care means you can no longer remain at home? etc)
  • Identifying self-care support that is necessary and helpful for you. Typically the first things we let go are the things we need most to carry us through. This applies in a lot of life, but in particular to caregiving. It is easy to disregard our own needs because the care receiver is so needy.
    • Maintain your own physical health– this means moving your body, seeing your doctor regularly, following up with any health concerns you have for yourself, doing the routine care things of dentist, hair stylist, eye doctor, etc. 
    • Try to eat well. Having regular, well-balanced meals and staying hydrated will help you have the energy you need to deal with all that is coming your way. 
    • Prioritize rest. You need to sleep. Sleep deprivation only makes things worse. This is a legitimate tourture technique. Take your sleep seriously. 
    • Continue or establish faith practices that nurture your spiritual life– church attendance, a bible study or small group, personal prayer and devotional practices, encouraging spiritual input…
    • Limit negative coping mechanisms– alcohol or drug use/abuse/dependence, emotional eating, technology addiction/consumption– again, you can only care for others when you are cared for. Be alert to when things move from self-comfort to numbing. 
    • Maintain social connections with people who bring you joy. This can be a lonely and isolating role. You will need to be intentional about maintaining friendships or other meaningful relationships, but you need those people (and they want connection with you). 

This is the last post in a three part series of resources for caregiving. Check out part 1 and part 2. These ideas are drawn from a presentation for caregivers given at Crown Hill Mennonite Church in May 2022. 

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