Take care of yourself when you are caregiving.
If you aren’t taking care of yourself how can you provide care to others?
Self-care is critically important to be able to successfully go the distance when taking care of a loved one.
This self-care still needs to be addressed even after the caregiving is over.
Sometimes it’s even more urgent after the job of caregiving is finished.
I have been involved in supporting caregivers for several years now through Lifecycles.
I started the practice after doing my own stint as a caregiver for many of my older, sick relatives.
It occurred to me recently that people still need guidance and direction after the caregiving is over.
So, what do you do when the person you have been focused on; spent the bulk of your time and energy on is gone?
Of course, you get rid of the bottles of unused medications, return the hospital bed, etc.
Or you go collect their belongs from whatever facility they were in.
But then what?
Sure, there are usually odds and ends (or more substantive) financial concerns to wrap up. Depending on the complexity of the planning that had been done this process could take quite a while.
Some people find comfort in going thru the person’s belongings and getting rid of what isn’t wanted. Others cannot bear to do this and they leave it all intact for months, years and sometimes forever.
But ultimately what do you do when your day to day has been consumed with the caregiving and the person no longer needs it.
Of course, there is grief and sadness that usually accompany the loss. And as we all know everyone processes their feelings in different ways. It depends on who the person was, what the relationship was like and many other variables.
But even still; what do you do with yourself? How do you fill the hours that were spent caregiving? What do you do if you have given up a job to provide the care that was needed? I have several clients and friends who have done just that. Can they return to their positions; do they even want to? What about the other relationships in their lives, have they neglected them in order to focus fully on the task at hand? How do you pick
up the pieces of your pre caregiving life?
My friend Jane who gave up her job to provide full time care for her mother ended up taking a trip to a place she had always wanted to visit. She eventually went back to her career.
A client who spend several months caring for her dying father went back to finish her degree in law and now is a successful attorney in private practice with a focus on family law.
Another friend, Carol reconnected with her family. She and her spouse went into marriage counselling to heal the rifts in their marriage created by Carol’s decision to put her ailing family member first. They ultimately were successful and now are living their lives together and happy.
Marissa’s story was a bit different, the distance created in her relationship due to her emotional absence from her spouse -they ended up permanently ending their marriage.
It is truly remarkable how these changes in daily life happen so quickly. Before you even realize it; its been months since you sat down to eat dinner with your family, its been months/years since you connected with your friends, been to the gym or gone to the movies.
How do you start over? Clearly you aren’t the same after the experience of intense caregiving. Your desires, needs, wants, fears and dislikes have all been altered. What you used to enjoy no longer is enjoyable. Things that you always thought you didn’t like, now become more attractive to you.
The answers to this question of what to do now are as myriad as the people facing this reality. In other words, there is no simple answer. However, I do believe that there are some steps to take to come to your own truth.
Take the time to evaluate your current situation. Now that you have the time to focus on yourself once again, spend some time considering your options.
Do you want to pursue a new vocation, do you want to rekindle your pre caregiving relationships? Was your marriage already problematic? What about your children? How has this experience changed you as a parent? Are there experiences that you always put off for lack of time – do you still want to give them a try? Maybe you are now considering a life style or a career change?
If you are like many caregivers, you have neglected your own health and well-being.
Now is the time to focus on yourself and take steps to heal. If that means getting to a therapist, grief counselling or going to a gym; do it. This is the time.
This time gives you a fresh start on so many levels. Take charge and get to work.
Yes, grieve the loss but also recognize that the experience you just lived through can be looked at with optimism and gratitude. Yes, it was exhausting, stressful and possibly very sad but try to take all of that and use it to create the steps for your next life journey.
And don’t forget that for many of us this caregiving road we have been on gave your loved one dignity, companionship and peace. Truly something to be very proud of. Truly an experience to grow within.
To be a fulfilled human being we all need to discover our own power in creating the lives we want to live.
And that is what’s next.