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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Your Dying Spouse 253 - Work As A Caregiver's Vacation

Shakespeare wrote that "if all the years were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work."

But caregiving is no holiday, and you, dear caregiver, may find yourself in the odd position of finding your job as a vacation from caregiving, and something to which you look forward.

Additionally, when offered vacation time, you may cringe...because you know that it will likely just mean more time spent at home with your husband or wife, the patient.

This can be a source of guilt, but it shouldn't be. There can be an isolation and sameness in caregiving that's almost soul-destroying. You're locked into a routine that's constrained and constricted by another's infirmity, to begin with.

It's like going for a walk with a toddler. It may be fun for awhile, but at length, having to walk bent over, and having your normal stride limited to baby steps, it becomes a trial.

You don't love the toddler any less for that, but it's a relief when the walk's done.

There's also the limited round of shared activities. About the best barbara and I can do is watch DVDs together, and we've seen everything in our collection, several times.

I don't mind. These are the boundaries of my life, and I've leaned to appreciate the nuances of film-making and storytelling because, well, I have had to.

But she belongs to a wider world, and I imagine it can be excruciating for her. I think she knows the Lord Of The Rings trilogy by heart.

So it is likely something of a relief for her when Monday morning comes. It would be for me.

And I hope it's not a source of guilt, if she feels this way. I'd hate that.

If you're a caregiver and you look forward to your job with a joy that feels almost unseemly, what can you do to assuage any feelings of guilt?

  • Accept the feeling as normal - you'e not the one who's sick, and feeling forced into the lifestyle of illness is unfair and frustrating. While your marriage vows (or loyalty, if you're caring for a parent or sibling) put you here, you didn't ask for this. Be gentle with your own heart. You're human.
  • Don't overcompensate - don't try to make your home, caregiving life something that it's not. If you hit the ground running and bursting with energy to try to rev up the life you're in, you stand a good chance of wearing your patient out, and creating frustration all around.
  • Encourage diversity - if you're stuck with watching movies, subscribe to Netflix or a similar service if finances permit. Or try board games, if you both find some enjoyment there. If you can go out together,plan trips to museums or cultural activities that will not be over-tiring for the patient, and that you can still enjoy even if the activity's limited in time and scope.
  • Above all, don't share the feeling of 'work as vacation' at home! - you patient likely knows that caring for him or her is a trial, and limits your life. Emphasizing it can be a body-blow to a person whose self-eteem is already shaky.
What do you think? Are there other ways you can add to deal with this issue?

I have another blog, "Starting The Day With Grace". The focus is a grace quote from someone you might not expect (like, say Mick Jagger) and a short commentary. I hope you'll join me.

Marley update... been moved to a sanctuary, and Bay County will revise their 'dangerous dog' codes.


If you can, please do leave a comment. I am trying to answer all, and I am failing, but please know this - I read and treasure each one.

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  1. There's a sense in which what you say is true of anyone who's in the caregiver role, whether it's illness or tiny people who will some day be taller than the "caregiver" (ahem). It has always been my love for these crazy boys that has sweetened the grittiness of wiping noses and cleaning up messes and perpetually making food. Reading your words shows me that I need to be praying for caregivers I know -- that their love will abound "yet more and more" to help them through the daily grind. Always enlightening to visit here, Andrew!

    1. Michele, you're absolutely right - parenting is very much a caregiving role! And those years pass all too quickly, don't they?

      Thanks so much for being here. I appreciate your presence, and your wisdom.

  2. Andrew ... I like the idea of being gentle with ourselves, to give ourselves grace and kindness. If we can't somehow make that happen, it's going to be hard to authentically drum it up for someone else ...

    1. Linda, you're absolutely right; how we treat ourselves is very much a reflection of how we treat others.

      C.S. Lewis observed this in the centurion described by Tacitus, who was "all the more relentless because he had endured it himself."

      And yes, that was me, back in the day.

      Thanks so much for being here!

  3. I think that your constant pursuit of seeing things through the caregiver's eyes must be so healing to your heart, Andrew. Most people in your shoes might be tempted to give in to feeling sorry for oneself, but you always look to how hard it must be for Barbara. I hope that she realizes that and is moved to love and compassion for you as well because of it. Happy New Year to you and Barbara--not to mention, your sweet pups! I'm so glad that you've made it to the threshold of another year! You inspire us all!

    1. Beth, yes...it is healing to look from the caregiver's perspective, because it forces me to push away any tendency toward self-absorption. And it makes me realize that however bad the pain and humiliating the symptoms, life is still to be enjoyed.

      Thanks so much for being here, and for the lovely, kind words!

  4. There have been jobs that I did enjoy going to; and at times the task of "being adult" got the best of me and I was happy to get back to the job! Since I've been retired, and am in the role as caregiver, I don't really have a job to go back to; or to vacation to or whatever! But, luckily I do have a hobby that can "take me away"; like Calgon taking me away from a stressful situation, getting away for a weekend or even a few hours with friends and crafting helps me immensely!

    It IS good to have that; and my husband does encourage me to do so...at this point, he IS able to get himself places if needed; and he microwaves leftovers and things really well!

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom, Andrew! Hugs and prayers and a happy new year to you and Barb.

    1. Barbara, I'm so glad you have that possibility of respite! It's terribly important to be able to maintain perspective and compassion. Burn-out is a real danger for many in this situation.

      Thanks so much for sharing this - hugs and prayers back from both of us - and a happy start to 2017!

  5. As I was pushing Mom's wheelchair down the rehab hospital's main hallway yesterday, I told the personnel that we were going for an afternoon stroll, and they smiled. As we walked past open doors, some of the patients looked at us or spoke to us. Smiles can affirm worth to others. Mother enjoyed our "stroll" and I enjoyed spreading the love. I'm learning that caregiving is a mind game first, then the caregiving stuff. Thank you for this fine post today, Andrew.

    1. Norma, yes! it is first and foremost a mind game. When the mind's disciplined to brightness and compassion, the job's a lot easier.

      It's like Yogi Berra said about baseball - "The game's 90% mental, and the other half is physical."

      Thanks so much for being here, my friend!

  6. Spot on, as usual, Andrew. People asked me why I kept teaching with a catastrophically ill child, but the truth was that those moments in the classroom is the only time my life resumed any sense of normalcy. I taught half-time, so it was perfect. Having said that, it was extremely difficult to balance work and caregiving and to hand over my trust to a hired caregiver. I felt guilt, lots of it, but I'm glad I kept teaching.

    1. Carol, thank you so much for sharing this experience. Finding the balance to enable one to do the job to one's best ability and maintain one's sanity...you've pointed out so well how important that is!

      I'm so glad you're here, and that you added this to the conversation!

  7. Andrew, you are so inspiring as you look at caregiving from the perspective of the caregiver. That is indeed such a blessing. Your gentleness and consideration must be such a blessing to Barbara. Praying for you both this morning.

    1. Joanne, thank you for such grace-filled words! You've made my heart happy today, and I so appreciate your stopping by to leave them for me.

      The prayers are so very appreciated by both of us.

  8. Such a great post, Andrew. Your insights, shared with compassion and straightforwardness, are encouraging. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your perspective. I'm continuing to pray for you, friend.

    1. Jeanne, thank you so much! I really appreciate your kind words. And especially the prayers!