A warm breeze travels through the canyons, carrying the scent of lavender as it brushes my cheek. My bare toes touch the deck’s surface sending the canopied swing into motion.
Taking a four-hour airplane ride, an hour-long bus ride and a three-hour car trip, I finally arrive in this magical place. I feel my heart rate slow, my breath deepens and my shoulders relax as I watch the flight of blue jays and woodpeckers.
I laugh at the quail racing across the acorn-littered forest floor, and note the different appearance of the squirrels here in Atascadero, California. Two-thousand miles from my home, I am sitting next to my sister Cindy on her swing, discussing the sewing projects that have prompted my travel.
Cindy’s invitation offers more than the sharing of her talent for sewing. It offers me a much-needed retreat from my caregiving duties of our mother and all those I minister to who are journeying through grief and life’s losses. Cindy is sharing her summer vacation with me, enjoying time away from lesson plans and the bureaucratic nightmare of teaching elementary school.
We pour a glass of California grown chardonnay, toasting to our new rhythm of life for the next week, and our freedom from responsibilities.
At the same time we clink glasses, my cell phone rings. Looking at the caller ID, I see MOM.
Believing that she wouldn’t call me so soon, I answer, hoping that she is okay.
She asks about my flight, the weather, and I find myself getting angry about her interrupting my time away. I know she had wanted to come along, although her traveling days are over.
And then she says, “I didn’t want to tell you, but I fell.”
Twenty minutes later I have all the details and the response to my question, “How are you doing now?” Again our mother defies the odds, ending up with a small scrape on her knee after falling on concrete. The paramedics came to help her up, advising her to go to the hospital and she refused, telling me, “I’ll call the doctor in the morning if I’m in a lot of pain.”
Hanging up, I realize all the important lessons I have learned over the years as a caregiver:
– Even when we think we are the only ones who can do the job, the reality is – we are replaceable. Even when a preferred caregiver is unavailable, there is usually someone else willing and able to take our place.
– Outcomes are random and impersonal, worrying about leaving or taking a day off doesn’t change what will or will not happen.
– Without time away, you will become less effective and efficient as a caregiver and resentment will set in.
– Sometimes we aren’t needed as much as we think – those we take care of can and often do find solutions to their problems without our input.
– Setting boundaries cannot be overstated – caregivers’ personal needs matter, and without boundaries those we care for can become dependent on us despite being capable themselves.
I would love to hear from you – What lessons have you learned from being a caregiver? How is it you take care of yourself while caregiving?