One of the most difficult and stressful jobs you’re ever likely to face is one for which you don’t get paid. This work can be so all encompassing as to wreak havoc on your paying employment, as well as on your ability to fulfill your at-home and familial duties.
It’s a job at which most of us will have a turn.
Of course, I’m talking about being the main caregiver of your aging parent(s).
The descent into isolation looks something like this:
Initially, you’ll cancel social plans in the hopes of finding a few more hours in the week. There’s no time for leisure activities, you tell yourself, and your real friends will understand. As the months wear on, you find yourself failing to return these friends’ phone calls and texts … until your phone stops ringing. Eventually, you notice a hollow sensation in your gut. It’s a loneliness you feel from the depths of your soul. You may tentatively reach out to someone whose calls and texts had gone unanswered, only to now find yourself on the receiving end of the returned silence.
You haven’t been to exercise or art class in what must be forever. Who has the time or the extra money anyway, you reason?
With each passing day, you become more isolated, both physically and emotionally.
So how does someone with a plate overflowing with responsibility manage to reconnect with the world once more? Here are a few recommendations to keep you, the caretaker, tuned in to the world around you:
Put your own wellness first
Yes, you hear it all the time: You can’t take care of another unless you first take care of yourself. Logically, it just makes sense. Make certain you’re well nourished (not merely fed). Get appropriate sleep. If your duties tend to creep into the overnight hours, take a short daytime nap when your parent is also asleep. Make sure you manage to grab a quick shower each day, even if this means getting creative to make it happen. This small act of self-kindness works wonders.
Do something for yourself a minimum of once a week
Take a walk, go to a class, spend time wandering through your local bookstore, have lunch with a friend. The energy boost experienced from being with others is a must for the person whose day-to-day life is so isolated. How can I do this, you ask? Well, if Mom is still mobile, take her out with you, even for a stroll around the mall. Better yet, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to relieve you of your duties for an hour while you treat yourself to a low-cost massage at the local massage school. You can also try calling your place of worship, where there is usually a list of volunteers who are just waiting to do good for others.
Find support online
Odds are, your downtime is nearly nonexistent. Luckily, we live in the digital age, where the next best thing to a phone conversation is as close as your nearest device. From therapy with a licensed clinician, to private social forums and affordable online photography classes, communication is available to you at any time of the day or night. Simply search key words on Facebook, Google, etc., to find like-minded people at a moment’s notice. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to find free assistance with some of Mom or Dad’s needs. Start sleuthing.
Your friends and fellow community members can’t help you if they don’t know what it is you need. One thing’s for certain, and that’s the fact that all of us with elderly parents will have our own turn at this difficult post.
There’s simply no need to go it all alone.
If I may be of assistance to you and your own family during this time, or if you know someone else who is currently overwhelmed by their own caretaking responsibilities, please get in touch.
All the best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson