In 2015, I transitioned from a full-time caregiver back to a somewhat “normal” life with my dad now in a nursing home. Although caregiving was challenging, to say the least, it was a phase of my life I’ll never regret. As a caregiver to my elderly parents, I evolved spiritually and deepened the special bond between parent and child. My mother is no longer with us, but the love my parents and I shared — expressed in their care of me when I was a child and in my care of them when they became my “babies” — is one of the greatest gifts of my life.
While I was caregiving, I was too caught up in the daily routine of constant worry to truly reflect on what was happening to me as an adult child caregiver. Now that I can look back, distancing myself from the constant, immediate medical needs of in-home care, I can see it as a beautiful part of the life cycle that no one should ever fear. It’s an honor to take care of your parents.
Here are six positive thoughts to help you stay the course through the often arduous journey of being a parent to your parents.
CAREGIVING LESSONS FOR THE NEW YEAR
1. Be a witness to your own actions. Every phone call to a doctor, every medical question, every diaper you change, every meal you prepare, every tear you might cry in frustration or sorrow, every little thing that fills up your day while caregiving — it’s not you postponing something else you could be doing — it’s you living life in the moment just as it should be. You’ll never have another chance to love your parents this way. They never gave up on you as a child. Don’t give up on them.
2. Don’t forget to breathe. Sometimes, that’s all you need and that’s all there is. Knowing this, accepting this is very liberating. Feeling desperate and fatigued, it was hard for me to just surrender and accept the circumstances during many hospital emergencies. “Not this again,” I’d tell myself. But it did happen. Again and again — and so what? Be in the moment when you’re caregiving. You’re stronger than you think.
3. Fear is an illusion. If you live in fear of so the many “what ifs?” of caregiving — will my parents be OK? will they fall? will they get the right medication? will they remember me? — and on and on, you’ll never truly enjoy caregiving. It may sound contradictory to think you can enjoy something so challenging, but that’s only because for most people, like myself, caregiving showed up like an unexpected pregnancy. Nobody gave parents a manual; nobody gave caregivers of the elderly a manual, either. Proceed with confidence, not doubt. Fear will hold you back and keep you from experiencing joy. Fear doesn’t help you or your beloved elderly parent.
4. The world isn’t ending. Although I’d do it all over again if I had to without an ounce of regret, I sometimes felt as if I was missing out on life. I thought life was passing me by but in reality, I couldn’t have been living life more to the fullest. Sure, this meant that my friends could go out and enjoy themselves more often than I could. There were many events and career opportunities that slipped by, jobs lost and relationships damaged. But that’s only because I didn’t see that it was my job, my duty and my honor to be a caregiver. Our society doesn’t always see caregiving as a natural life obligation. You certainly wouldn’t tell a parent that they’re missing out on life, because parenthood is life. So is caregiving. Caregivers don’t need pity. They need support and understanding. If you’re caregiving, own it and be proud, knowing that it’s just a phase in life.
5. It’s all in the details. I could repeat so many clichés about living life with a positive attitude: “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” But it’s true. When I was caregiving, I took time for self-care in the minutest details that most of us take for granted. I relished little moments in my day like putting on a favorite scented lotion before bed, watching I Love Lucy reruns with a bowl of popcorn, buying flowers to brighten up the home every week, wearing a nice sundress at home instead of drab sweatpants and t-shirts. Long conversations with friends on the phone were a treat. Caregiving is overwhelming but don’t let it literally overwhelm you. More often than not, I’d slack on self-care. “What’s one more thing going to help?” But believe me, all these tiny gestures add up throughout the day. If you’re caregiving, think of all the little ways you can add joy to your life, as in another motivational saying: “Happy people aren’t those who have everything, but those who are happy with everything they have.”
6. Caregiving is spring-cleaning time. By putting the hold button on my personal and career life, I had a chance to focus on other aspects of my life that needed work. One of them was seriously evaluating all the toxic relationships in my life and moving forward. Think of caregiving time as a gift to work on any aspect of your life that may need to evolve. So, you see, my life really never was “on hold,” it only felt that way. My only duty was caregiving and so, in fact, I had the opportunity to reflect on who and what was actually in my best interest and in the service of a life filled with love and peace, not anger and resentment. Yes, while emotions run high during caregiving, it’s possible to see that as a blessing and a huge benefit.
As I ring in the new year, I feel stronger in spirit and happier than ever. I encourage anyone who is caregiving to adopt a positive outlook on their important role in life. I often shrugged off positive thinking with an “easier said than done” attitude. As I’m coming out of caregiving, life has changed for better to “there’s no challenge I can’t face” attitude. Caregiving makes you stronger and give you the opportunity to be the kindest and most compassionate person you could be. In the end, it’s all about the love you share and that’s all that really matters.
— Maria de los Angeles is an award-winning writer based in Miami who became a caregiver to her parents in 2008. Since then, she has been a passionate advocate for eldercare and caregiver issues.Claudio Alegre is the CEO & Chief Content Writer for Angel Home Care Services on the Web and Patient and Family Advocate off the Web. He lives in Miami with his wife and 3 boys. He's passionate about healthcare and all things caregiving. He can be reached at [email protected] or directly at 305.220.4544
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