Supercharge your caregiving batteries
A friend asked if she could give my phone number to her cousin, Michelle. Michelle’s husband was recently diagnosed with late-stage cancer; they have a young daughter, Olivia; and Michelle is dealing with some serious health issues of her own.
“Most caregivers have not planned for the role, and although many accept it with grace … most do not feel prepared to address the many issues ahead of them,” reports a Focus on the Family article.
Which means if you’ve been thrown unexpectedly into a caregiving role, and you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone.
Caregiving isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a hard and holy calling, requiring inconvenience and sacrifice and courage.
With that encouraging thought, consider these 5 strategies for supercharging your caregiving batteries:
1. Practice self-care
When I asked Michelle about self-care, it didn’t surprise me that she said, “Self-care feels selfish,” even though she was somewhat trying to take care of herself and manage the stress.
The thing is, self-care isn’t selfish; it’s simply replenishing body, soul, and spirit so we have reserve to pour into our people. Check out an earlier blog for 43 highly effective self-care tips.
Eleanor Brownn puts it this way:
We cannot serve from an empty vessel.
(Michelle said one of the things she does for de-stressing is hide dark chocolate in her purse. Love that idea … gonna have to add it to the highly-effective self-care list!).
2. Recruit support
Even though she has family support and a great group of girlfriends, Michelle said she doesn’t really have anyone to talk with who’s been in her role: “There’s no one in my family who knows how hard it is.”
A community of people that have first-hand knowledge of what we’re going through is critical. Community helps instill courage and hope: “I get it … I experienced that very same thing … here’s what helped me.”
3. Seek to understand the patient’s perspective
If we’re a team — caregiver and caree — it helps to understand what causes anxiety in the one we’re caring for.
Needless to say, Michelle’s husband is struggling with the issues that accompany a late-stage diagnosis and the financial pressure of not being able to work full-time. These factors infuse distress in a husband who may have to leave wife and child to make their own way in the world.
And Michelle’s husband is dealing with this the way most men would: By keeping a lot of it to himself.
A year ago, I wrote a piece about reticent men and cancer that highlights some of the things men struggle with simply because they’re men.
When my husband, Gary, was diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer, the treatment of choice was hormone therapy, designed to kill testosterone.
“I think it’s great we’re going through menopause together,” I said, probably a little too perky.
Gary withdrew. He simply shut down his words and affections. Paired with strained finances from his earlier unemployment and the care for my live-in mother who was slipping into dementia, it was an overwhelmingly bleak season.
That is, until Gary finally opened up and helped me to understand why he felt like a failure as a man. This was something I could help him carry.
Meanwhile, Michelle is pouring encouragement and love into her husband’s life, endeavoring to understand the male perspective of what he’s dealing with. “I’m trying to show him through my actions that no matter what, I’m there for him.”
4. Create family time and memories
Michelle is most worried about Olivia: “She’s very intuitive and reads people’s faces and understands adult things.”
Olivia hasn’t been sleeping well. She admitted to her mom that every time she goes to bed, she’s afraid her daddy won’t wake up in the morning.
“It breaks my heart,” said Michelle. “She’s just eight. I’m still not over my dad dying, and I was thirty at the time.”
Michelle said they’re planning a weeklong get-away at a friend’s cabin on a lake. She’s looking forward to simply being together as a family away from the cares of home.
After cancer came knocking on our door, Gary and I decided to live while he still had life. As a result, there are movie reels running through my head of summiting mountains, road trips through national parks, Friday dates, breaking trail in snow-shoes, running from Pacific waves. And nothing can erase these gleeful memories.
5. Plug into faith
Michelle said that her faith is sustaining her. “God is not allowing me to go through this for no reason.”
But then she back-pedaled, almost apologetically: “It’s not about me.”
Oh, but my new friend, when a serious health diagnosis explodes unexpectedly, the shrapnel does damage to all who are closely connected to the patient. It is about you, and it is about Olivia.
Through our wilderness years of unemployment, a live-in aging parent, terminal cancer, and into widowhood, Gary’s and my faith supported and nurtured us … and is still sustaining me.
And amazingly, so much good has come from the barren, desolate journey. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.
Michelle realizes she has no control over her husband’s diagnosis, her own health issues, her daughter’s fears, or their strained finances. “But what I can control is how I react, and how I’m showing Olivia how to care for someone, and how I’m being compassionate.”
Michelle is wise and anxious and overwhelmed and amazing and scared and brave.
A word to the wise, to the heroic, to the caregivers: Don’t try to go it alone. We must take care of ourselves and let others love on us as we travel this challenging but sacred caregiving journey.
P.S. If you know someone who is carrying a heavy caregiving load alone, please share, tweet or pin!