At the end of Mom’s life, I was caring for and organizing her daily needs. This was a new gig for me and I jumped in with high ignorance believing ‘I can do this’. Soon I was experiencing deep bone exhaustion. I realized I had to take better care of myself. If not, I would be the one needing care.
I know from others who have cared for a loved one that self-care is critical. If you are exhausted, you cannot be of service. Wide ranging emotions and stress related issues can tip the scales and soon, you are making mistakes while trying so heroically to care for your loved one.
I spoke with a friend who tried to do it all for his partner during the last weeks. It was not until he read my book about caring for mom that he realized he waited too long to bring in valued help. He had the mistaken idea he could do it all himself. It’s just not possible!
That is why there are countless care agencies offering breaks from one hour to 24-hours. Friends and family will want to help when you let them. It took me time to accept their help.
At the time of frantic care I only reacted to Mom’s immediate needs. It was too hard to see beyond the crash cart of unknown territory. Finally when I noticed my stress climbing, I had others cover for me while I went for walks, took a nap, went to lunch, anything that did not require thinking or doing for mom.
This is not selfish behavior—this is self-care.
I needed the break and quite possibly, mom needed a break from me as well. If you find yourself weepy, sleepy, unable to focus, more than grumpy, gaining or losing weight, you need a break to continue serving your loved one. This is your body’s signal that something needs to change.
To make needed changes, consider this:
Ask for help. Then be ready to receive what is offered. I felt I was doing fine and did not need more than two others helping with mom. It turns out we needed five. And, they came with different abilities than I had. I just needed to ask and give up control.
Be organized. With a wide variety of caregivers coming at different times we kept a loose leaf binder for notes. Each wrote the time they came and what Mom’s day was like, including food, drinks, pills, naps, bathroom visits, how many times she tried to get up and down during her extreme agitation and how long she slept.
Get sleep. Even if it means using a sleeping aid or pill. You need deep sleep so your brain can rest and revitalize.
Investigate resources. There are countless resources, including hospice available for caregivers ranging from local to national. Ask a friend who has gone through the same situation how they coped.
Call the doctor. Don’t rely on neighbors or friendly advice for specific needs, use professional advice. Mom’s doctor provided the right meds at the right time to relieve pain and anxiety with knowledge neither we no our neighbors had.
Remember the one you are caring for may need self-care as well as you do. Mom’s self-care was to die at home with her family around her. That happened. My self-care was to write. I needed to journal daily events to make sense of the situation with mom. (This journal became my book, The Pink Door.) Mom and I made up prayers, laughed, talked and sighed. Mom had little to no regrets in her well-lived life. We spent our last moments loving each other in peace and gratitude. This was the ultimate self-care for us.