May 19, 2023  by Linda Wattier
May 19, 2023  by Linda Wattier

The call reminded me of an old TV commercial for a medical alert device. Only this was real.

“Mom fell down and broke her hip,” my sister said. “She’s in the hospital waiting for surgery. I’m freaking out about Dad. He shouldn’t be living alone!”

Wait. What?

What’s up with Dad?

After more conversation, and once the initial shock subsided, I had to face the truth. The thing that no one ever wants to talk about had finally happened.

Our parents, who had until then been independent and self-sufficient, needed help. I would have to put my life on hold and travel the 2,800 miles to their home.

Fortunately, one of my brothers only lives about four hours away and was able to get there the next day.

During our frequent phone conversations, Mom and Dad downplayed their day-to-day challenges. When I asked how they were doing, they made light of things and insisted they didn’t need help.

So, when I arrived, I was blindsided by the decline in Dad’s cognitive function.

Also, Mom developed a frightening post-operative delirium that lingered for two weeks. As a result, she remained hospitalized for an entire month.

At the same time, Dad announced that he had decided he should give up driving. He also asked us to help them find and move into an assisted living apartment as soon as possible.

That’s how I ended up staying with them for six weeks.

For the first month, my brother rearranged his life so he could spend three and a half days with us every week. I was so grateful for that. And together, we accomplished a lot for our parents in a relatively short time.

But it wasn’t easy.

In many ways, the experience reminded me of the demands of parenting. Selflessness, on-the-spot problem-solving, patience, and resilience—all constant requirements.

As in parenting, there’s no instruction manual for when your parents need care. You’re just making everything up at the worst possible time: when you are overwhelmed, and somebody else’s life depends on you.

So, I put these five coping ideas before you, not as an expert, but as an uninitiated caregiver. One who took on the care of her parents because they suddenly needed her to.

Accept What Is

Accepting what is puts you in a state of inner non-resistance. Of course, you can still want to improve things. But you have a calmer attitude, and any action you take to help the situation is more effective.

It was hard to witness the changes in my parents. Their confusion and grief over losing much of their independence were heartbreaking. But, to avoid being overtaken by my emotions, I kept reminding myself, “This is how it is now; what would Love do?”

One powerful example of this happened years ago when my husband was first having chemotherapy treatments for his chronic leukemia. One day, he was lying in bed after coming home from an infusion, freezing cold and shivering.

I felt anxious as I kept piling extra blankets on him, but his teeth kept chattering. I remember thinking, “Why isn’t this working? He should be warm by now! What is happening?” Instead of being fully present, I got caught up in my fearful, resisting thoughts.

When I finally remembered to ask, “What would Love do?” I got in bed and wrapped myself around him. No “thinking” was involved; it felt like something other than my mind took over at that moment.

As soon as I did it, I became present enough to realize that my poor husband wasn’t just cold but also afraid. And, of course, my warm, loving hug made all the difference. The shivering soon stopped, his body and mind relaxed, and he fell asleep.

Accepting the present moment as it is doesn’t mean giving up in resignation. In fact, you are more likely to come up with practical solutions for problems that initially seem insurmountable.

Identify and Mobilize Trustworthy Helpers

Caregiving can be lonely. But you don’t have to go it alone. No matter how self-sufficient you are, give yourself permission to ask for help from trusted others.

Back to my experience with my parents: My brother immediately found local services that made our situation more manageable. Home Again Senior Transitions, a downsizing and move management company, was a godsend.

Jill and her staff helped us plan, organize, sort, downsize, and move. With their guidance, we felt better about the decisions we had to make on our parents’ behalf.

Consider asking family, friends, neighbors, and/or local service organizations for help. It could make all the difference in providing the best care for your loved ones.

Also, it’s crucial to obtain an Enduring Power of Attorney, if necessary. This type of POA will continue even if your loved one loses mental or physical capacity, allowing you to legally make financial and business decisions on their behalf.

Make Healthy Choices for Your Wellbeing

Amidst the countless demands of caring for your loved ones, you must remember that your health matters, too.

I confess that I didn’t do well with two important choices—nutrition and exercise. I know for sure this added to the depletion I felt after six weeks.

Be mindful of your nutrition. Opting for nutrient-rich foods will give you the sustained energy you need.

Exercise releases endorphins, reducing stress and promoting a positive mindset. It may feel like there’s no time for exercise, but even short bursts of movement can make a difference.

One way I did care for myself was to attend to my bedtime routine. I retired early every night to enjoy my book and wind down before sleep. As a result, I generally slept well, which helped to restore my energy.

Find moments of respite, even if it’s just a few minutes of deep breathing or a short walk in nature.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson —

Grant Yourself Some Grace

You’re giving your all, pouring your heart and soul into caring for your loved ones.

But we’re all human, and mistakes happen.

There were a couple of times when I wished I could have been more patient, generous, or understanding on this journey.

When Mom was anxious, she could be impatient with Dad. This happened regularly during their challenging transition.

One day, she spoke to him disrespectfully, and instead of minding my own business, I blurted out, “Mom, stop! You’re berating him for something he can’t do anymore! Can’t you see he’s doing the best he can?!”

Ouch. Not my finest moment.

It was awkward for all three of us.

But I’ve learned it’s better to forgive yourself and move on from these slip-ups as soon as possible. Dwelling on them will only weigh you down and drain your energy.

Accept your imperfections, let go of self-criticism, and grant yourself the grace you deserve.

Look For Things to Be Grateful For

Besides enhancing your everyday life, finding things to be grateful for helps you cope during tough times. It broadens your perspective and enables you to maintain a positive outlook.

Despite the difficulties, I cherished heartfelt conversations with my brother and my dad. Sharing meals together and moments of laughter brought some much-needed lightheartedness.

I was thankful for my mom’s excellent care during her month-long hospital stay. And I was grateful my parents could afford a lovely apartment in a modern assisted living facility.

There were also many tender moments I will never forget.

Like how my self-sufficient, undemonstrative dad allowed me to take his hand when walking across busy parking lots. And how he said to me one day out of the blue, “I love the way you protect me.”

Another sweet moment was Mom’s childlike delight and gratitude when I finally took her for a flattering, long-overdue haircut.

In the blink of an eye, life can take an unexpected turn. One such curveball is the sudden responsibility of caregiving for a loved one. It’s a challenging journey that will test your strength and resilience.

But amid the intense emotions and the weight of this new role, there are ways to cope and find solace.

By embracing these coping strategies, you can successfully navigate this uncharted territory with love and compassion for everyone involved.

I wish you peace of heart as you go.

The Emotional Side of Caregiving | Family Caregiver Alliance

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About Linda Wattier

Founder and Bold Wellbeing Coach at How She Thrives. I help women over forty embrace wholehearted living for a more authentic, fulfilling experience of midlife and beyond.

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