(This blog post is a contribution from Kindra French, owner of 101 Mobility® in San Diego.)
My mom suffered from chronic progressive lung disease. She was diagnosed in my early childhood; and by the time I was a teenager, my mom was completely housebound, and my dad and I shared the responsibility for her care. She was unable to walk more than a few steps unassisted and was completely dependent on an oxygen machine for life.
My dad, too, became progressively more isolated and homebound as he devoted himself to serving my mom’s need for continuous care. The stress and sadness of watching his wife struggle for every breath were compounded by the pressure of maintaining a full-time job while caring for the constant needs of a physically disabled spouse.
Sadly, our situation is not uncommon for families facing the incapacity of a loved one due to aging, chronic illness, or sudden disability. Caregivers are stretched beyond limits in meeting constant needs: physically demanding, emotionally exhausting, and mentally overwhelming.
I recently attended a gathering of young moms, where Arlene Pellicane, an inspiring speaker and author, offered practical tips for becoming a happy mom in the midst of toddler tantrums and baby blues. As I absorbed her words, my heart turned not only to those caring for our youngest ones but to caregivers like my dad, who bear the daily burden of caring for disabled and aging loved ones with little relief.
Arlene offered 5 simple steps to becoming a happier mom, using the word “HAPPY” as an acronym. With her permission, I adapted HAPPY to the unique needs of caregivers, with the hope that these everyday heroes will find the strength and freedom to be HAPPY:
As caregivers, it’s easy to become consumed with caring for the needs of our loved ones, to the point where we begin to ignore our own health. Take time for personal health: stay active, find a few moments in each day to stretch, take a walk, or do some form of exercise that you enjoy. Get your daily dose of endorphins; it’ll make a measurable difference in your energy and stamina. Caring for your personal health also means making wise choices in what we eat. When we’re tired, it seems so much easier to gravitate toward convenience foods like chips and cookies; but apples, bananas, and almonds are just as convenient! Keep healthy snacks on hand, and you’ll be more likely to reach for food that will enrich, rather than deplete, your health!
Being action-oriented means less talk, more do. As caregivers, we fall into a pattern of doing for, rather than doing with, our loved ones in need. Being action-oriented means upholding the dignity of those we serve by encouraging them to do what they are able in regard to self-care. Rather than enabling, the action-oriented caregiver empowers. The action-oriented mindset counteracts the tendency for codependent relationships between caregivers and recipients of their care.
Let’s face it: the task of caring for an aging or disabled loved one is much bigger than any of us can handle on our own. Invite God into the equation; don’t be afraid to ask Him for strength, for peace, for wisdom, for anything you need! Cultivating regular daily conversation with God is an incredible resource for endurance, patience, and deeper joy in the midst of our struggles.
It’s surprisingly helpful to remember that caring for our loved ones isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. Having a long-haul mentality is so important in maintaining a healthy outlook as a caregiver. This is a tough one when faced with providing long-term care for a loved one in decline. The tasks may seem endless, and the end may seem hopeless. However, the care we offer brings comfort and value to those that we nurture with our care. When they are no longer with us, it will become apparent that our perseverance made a difference in the final chapter of someone very precious. The words of a wise ancient teacher come to mind: “Don’t get tired of doing good; in the end, you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up.”
Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to things you enjoy! We’ve already established that caring for a loved one can be all-encompassing, leaving little time for the caregiver to reboot. But times of refreshing are vital for sustaining a healthy caregiver relationship. Arrange to meet a friend for coffee. See a play. Watch a sunset. Read a book. Dance. Say “yes” to something you enjoy, and let it refresh your soul.
Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes, as do the loved ones we serve. Whether you are caring for an aging grandmother, a disabled college student, or a babe in arms, take care of yourself, and be “HAPPY!”
Arlene Pellicane’s books, 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Mom and 31 Days to a Younger You, are filled with inspiring, practical advice to refresh your soul. For more information, visit www.ArlenePellicane.com
– Kindra French, Owner of 101 Mobility® in San Diego