Tag Archives: caregiver emotions

Peace Among Caregivers

Peace among caregivers is rare. Some chaos is normal because we have too many duties. But there are times when #dementia takes a weird swing. We face bigger problems in those moments. Then we need tools to manage our own craziness along with our responsibilities.

Peace Among Caregivers

Fortunately some great thinkers have spent their lives seeking ways to be calm during life’s storms. The popular concept of “mindful living” is based on these practices. Although mindful living is now trendy, many ”mindful” practices were created centuries ago. Some of these — including meditation and breathing techniques — are very useful for #caregivers.

Last week I needed this kind of support. Too many aspects of my life were changing at once. I felt I was losing control of the basics. My mother continues to get weaker. We can barely hold her up when we take her to the bathroom — even with two people! The problem got worse when recent snowstorms kept helpers away from our house and I had to care for her alone. At the same time, I’ve been overseeing the renovation of Mom’s old home. Hidden leaks were ruining the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. We rent the place to get funds to help pay for my mother’s care. But we could not engage new tenants before doing extensive repairs.

It was nearly impossible to complete my professional work while managing these matters. I was losing patience with everyone. EVERYONE! An invisible enemy — something like those hidden leaks — was quietly destroying everything. Outside problems were stealing time I needed for taking care of myself. My sense of balance was going down the drain.

As I searched for ways to calm down, I stumbled on a magazine called Breathe that was sitting on my bedroom floor. In it, I found a helpful article by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who has spent his life promoting peace around the world.   He was recommended for a Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam.”

A Sensible Way to Regain Peace

This excerpt from #Thich Nhat Hanh’s book At Home in the World offers help for those times when you feel overwhelmed:

“There are days when you feel it’s just not your day, and that everything is going wrong. The more you try, the worse the situation becomes…That’s when it’s time to stop everything, go home, and to take refuge in yourself. The first thing to do is to close the doors and windows. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are the six windows you close when everything feels like a mess. Close everything in on order to prevent the strong wind from blowing in and making you miserable….Create a feeling of warmth, coziness, and comfort by practicing mindful breathing. Rearrange evertything — your feelings, your perceptions, your emotions — they’re all scattered everywhere; it’s a mess inside. Recognize and embrace each emotion…..tidy up everything within yourself. This will help you restore your calm and peace…We need a refuge we can always rely on, and that is the island of self…..Every time you suffer badly, and nothing seems to be going right, stop everything and go to that island right away. It may be five, ten, fifteen minutes….You will feel stronger and much better within.” 

Most #caregivers must struggle to get those few minutes alone. Fifteen minutes may be an unrealistic goal. Yet if we are serious about taking care of ourselves, we can fight for two minutes of precious time on that island of self. Sometimes that’s enough to help us find our way back to peace.


Part IV Christmas for Caregivers

Part IV Christmas for Caregivers may surprise you by appearing in mid-January. But if you’re a #caregiver, I don’t need to explain. Our endless stream of duties (doctors’ visits, insurance claims, meal prep, pharmacy…) turns each day into an endless to-do list. Throw in tree trimming and gift wrapping and it suddenly feels like December might kill you.

Part IV Christmas for Caregivers

For me that feeling was becoming too real. My shoulder had been injured more times than I could count and my back was aching. I knew I couldn’t make it through the holidays unless I took some kind of break. Mom’s aides could see that exhaustion wearing me down. More than once they heard me say that I might have to move my mother to skilled nursing because I just couldn’t manage anymore. They worried for me, for Mom, for the future.

My support team is an odd mix of single moms, retirees, teenagers, ex-nursing home aides, a sister, and some friends. They are very loyal to my mother who can still charm people without being able to speak. Some have been helping out for more than a year, a few have been with us longer. I didn’t know they were having a private discussion about my situation until the day I returned in tears from a second nursing home visit. Two of them were standing in the kitchen waiting to learn if I found a site for respite care.

“It’s not gonna work,” I told them, “That facility specializes in diabetes care and they were not prepared to provide advanced dementia care. No place is going to take her because she needs two people for every transfer from her chair.”

I was ready to accept our sad fate which would probably include another move for my mother. This time to a skilled nursing home.

Part IV Christmas for Caregivers, the Real Gift

One of our aides stopped me before I could say one more thing.

“We have it figured out,” she said, “You can take your vacation.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, “There’s no place for Mom to go while I’m gone.”

“No,” the aide told me, “There are enough of us here to cover for a week without you. We just need someone to be you.”

I still didn’t get it, “What do you mean? How could someone be me?”

She laughed, “One person has to stay here every night, like you always do. The rest of us will just come in and help at our regular times to give the night person a break. That way your mom can can keep the same routine, with people she already knows, and you can take a real vacation.”

I considered this for a moment and realized that we might actually be able to work it out. Of course I would pay the person who took over my duties and stayed overnight, but that wouldn’t cost more than respite care. With this arrangement I wouldn’t spend my whole vacation worrying because I already trusted the people involved.

It took a few hours of strategizing to create a schedule for everyone. Once I did it, I felt tremendous relief. For the first time in years, I started looking online for cheap airfares and hotels. I decided to go back to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place full of creative traditions that always revive me.

The people who help my mom every day gave me the best gift anyone could possibly offer a #caregiver — real rest. In my vacation week I read a great book (The Round House, by Louise Erdrich) from start to finish. The Santa Fe Film Festival was underway so I saw a few movies. I got therapy for my back and shoulder. By the time I got home, I felt like my old self — the person I was before #dementia struck my mom.

Mom is still content in her chair.  We have no idea how long she’ll be here, but I’m so grateful that our support team helped me get a second wind. For right now, that’s enough.