This month I spoke at Homewood Retirement Center, a 121- apartment senior living community in Frederick, Maryland with independent living and continuing health services. My hosts were the Caregivers Support Group there, but the lecture was open to all residents.
Previous speakers had been experts in fields like estate planning or dementia. I would be the first actual caregiver.
Many independent Homewood residents are caring for spouses in their apartments. Eventually the spouse might require care elsewhere in the Center, but my listeners were trying to stave off separation as long as possible.
I wanted to be encouraging. At the same time, I had to be real. I was talking to people who are struggling – caregiving is hard.
The encouragement I offered was two-fold. “I recognize you do this because you deeply love the person you’re trying to protect. What you’re doing is heroic. This is a person who deserves your tender care, and you will not abandon him or her. But… it is a sacrifice. Your longing for your lost life is not selfish.”
The paradox: you’re sincerely committed to your loved one. And, at the same time, you may sometimes want to run away. As my late husband Jerry used to say, “Life is not lived out in black and white. Life is lived out in shades of gray.”
So I offered some thoughts about caring for the caregiver, even when there’s very little opportunity to follow the obvious advice, like getting exercise and plenty of sleep. As your loved one requires more help it may be tricky to snatch even an hour or two for yourself.
But here’s what you can do: you can tend your own inner life. You can nurture your “soul” (or whatever you call your deepest self).
Some suggestions: find a safe place to speak openly, where you won’t feel judged, even about your darker thoughts. This could be a close relative, a therapist, a good friend, a support group.
Keep a journal of your thoughts, positive and negative. Write it all out – you can burn it later. Breathe. Practicing withdrawing energy from the surface stuff and turning inward. Meditate. Pray to become an instrument of peace.
And remember, this too shall pass.