We are perched at the waxing edge of an enormous aging population bubble. We are living longer in significant numbers, and some of us are living with medications and infirmities that require us to be vigilant.
We’re aging at the same speed our older loved ones are. To be clear – a thing which as a creative middle-aged woman, I almost never am – there is nothing amusing about getting and being old.
But sometimes it can be interesting.
We have our own language. Minds wander often in memories of long ago, like a review before a final exam. There are as many hearing levels as there are languages, as many quirks as age spots, as many obsessions as there are months flipped over on the calendar. We have wisdom to share and, if no one listens, we talk to ourselves.
When Mom passed on in 1998, I spent more time with Dad as he adjusted to a new life absent his beloved wife of 50 years. In 2004, I sold my house, moved home with my father and younger brother, who was born with Down’s Syndrome and has schizophrenia and early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease as well.
My Dad and my brother are both good men. I know bubkes about good men.
My mom may have understood men, but I didn’t listen to her as much as I claim she didn’t listen to me. But Mom is gone now, probably taking the doorknobs off the closets in heaven so angels don’t hang their robes on them.
Caregiving as a lifelong solitary person is a high wire balancing act, wearing tap shoes and a long skirt. Perhaps it is possible to make the transition a little less startling than diving straight into the deep end of the pool unprepared. Step One: lose the shoes.
Whether your new role involves moving to another location, or caregiving from your place, some thoughtful reflection before can be invaluable.
Tone your essential self. If you are moving home, get your emotions tuned first. You will face childhood issues that may or may not be resolved, and old stuff will come bang on the door. If you have a therapist or life coach, make specific appointments. If you don’t have one, get recommendations. Identify fears, concerns, and anger you are aware of, that may hamper a successful transition. Work to banish guilt.
Hopefully you’ll have your own room or space, and it is important to communicate that this space is yours and sacred. Physical boundaries (add a door, if there isn’t one) as well as time boundaries need to be established early. You are willing to be available for any care required, but you may work at home, have personal business to conduct without interruption, and setting a schedule and access will help with both.
Whatever subject matter, talk about it before an emergency arises. Setting boundaries works if you’ve communicated the limits of your space and time to your loved one(s). Be reasonable, but firm. Talking/repeating in a positive way is effective. If you cannot help with a task immediately, set a time you can help.
Involve Peer Providers
You are going to get tired. You are going to get anxious, depressed, muscle sore, and just plain blue. Communicate with siblings, children, other relatives who want to be involved how this can occur, as early in your caregiving experience as possible.
Community services are available in most counties for respite care for your loved one(s). Until there are respite homes for caregivers, schedule breaks for yourself. Plan mini-vacations. If you cannot be physically away, take time out of the house in short bursts. Even if you stand outdoors and stare at the sky; clear your mind and heart, and enjoy the fresh air.
Make sure your bodymind is functioning at optimum levels. Caregiving can be physically exhausting, so it is important to keep an exercise schedule. Walk, laugh. Meditate. Get eight hours of sleep a night, as often as you can. If you can’t sleep, ask your doctor about help. Sleep is critical to being healthy and available.
You are engaged in the most important and tender calling a person can deliver. Appreciate and pamper you! You are special, appreciated and blessed. You are living in the now, and that is rare and precious. Reward you for promoting peace and comfort. Above all, be as gentle with yourself as you possibly can be, always.