I spent my Spring Break week off work in a hospital room in a city an hour away. No, not as a patient. I didn’t experience any excruciating physical pain but I suffered the emotional stress of waiting and watching someone I love hurt. No question that the patient has the harder role, and I wouldn’t trade places with my husband for anything, but I’ve learned a few things in my intensive course in caregiving.
As you give care to others, you need to take some for yourself. Caregiver burnout is a very real thing, and there are practical ways to lessen the negative effect on yourself.
If you are a caregiver, you need to build a support system. You need other people to help you shoulder your load. When faced with traumatic stress, you may not know what, or who, you want. Before your situation becomes desperate, think about an answer you can give to people who offer their help.
Certain people are better suited for different tasks. Maybe you have a friend who gets overwhelmed by the idea of fixing a meal for your family, but she’d love to roll up her sleeves and help you clean. What are the tasks your loved one used to do that now fall on you? Or perhaps you just want to talk to a friend you can be real with.
If you truly want to help a caregiver, just show up and do something helpful. Don’t put the onus on them to tell you what they need.
That’s what my friends did for me this last week. They took care of me as I tried to take care of Steve. Two dear friends from my former life in Eastern Europe came quite a distance to sit with me in the hospital and wait through the long surgery. We talked about all kinds of things, laughed and even cried together. They lifted my spirits and reminded me that I’m not alone. If they’d asked me if I needed them to come, I would’ve said, “No, I’ll be fine. It’s too far.” So they didn’t ask. They showed up. They ministered to my soul.
As I gave care to Steve, the care offered to me surprised me. When we arrived back home, our wonderful neighbors showed up on our doorstep with meals and desserts. They didn’t ask; they just came. We both felt loved and uplifted by comments from friends around the world on Facebook and Instagram. They reminded us of God’s constant care. Many assured us of their prayers not only for Steve, but for me as well.
If you are a caregiver, you need to take time for yourself. You probably feel exhausted. You’re not sleeping well; you’re called on to be a nurse even if you have no aptitude or training for it; and you’re doing all your regular tasks plus the other person’s tasks. Taking care of your health isn’t selfish. If you don’t, you won’t have the strength and energy to care for your loved one. Walk, eat healthy meals, get fresh air, try to sleep.
Steve’s the morning person in our marriage. He’s the one who wakes up, alert and cheerful, makes breakfast, feeds the cats, and makes my latte before gently waking me up. (I know. Spoiled rotten.) I’ve never woken up cheerful in my life, but especially not after not sleeping most of the night listening to him moaning in pain and wondering if I need to call 911. When I do rise, I find my husband sitting patiently, waiting for me, and the cats outside on the porch doing backflips, not so patiently. In the long and painful weeks ahead of rehabilitation, we will all (human and animal) have to get used to our new normal.
I’ve learned the only way I can function is to steal whatever time I can to be alone. New moms learn to make the most of naptime to do whatever it takes to be recharged, and the same goes for all kinds of caregivers. Naptime is sacred for me, and thankfully, Steve takes frequent naps.
It’s best for me when my alone time isn’t totally alone. The only way I am restored is when I come, weary and burdened, to the One who gives me true rest for my soul, who exchanges my heavy yoke for his easy one. I like to pray Proverbs 11:25 for myself: “…whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
I’ve used the term “caregiver” but you might say “caretaker.” The dictionary says the two terms can be used interchangeably. However, there is a more nuanced distinction.
Caregivers give care to someone who can’t take care of themselves: babies, the elderly, the sick, or the disabled. That’s pretty straightforward, but it seems a caretaker should mean the exact opposite: the recipient of care. I give care but I also take it when it’s offered to me, so am I simultaneously a caregiver and a care-taker?
In the most common usage, caretakers take care of something, such as a building or an estate.
The life I started preparing for years ago, as a caregiver, is beginning to unfold. It’s the reason my husband and I moved to a more affordable town on the other side of the country, and settled my parents in the same town. So far, it’s been relatively easy with my semi-independent parents. But as they age, and their medical care increases, my role as caregiver becomes more defined.
I see God’s perfect timing for my decision last fall to switch to part-time work. In the last two weeks, each of my parents had outpatient procedures (in two different cities) before my husband’s major surgery in a third city. Between them, post-op appointments are set for weeks to come, some at the same time in different hospitals. Needless to say, I’m the designated driver, and I’m stretched thin.
Others have stepped in to help. They take care of me as I give care to my family.