I’ve been a Social Worker for more than 20 years, specializing in counseling care givers on the absolute necessity of taking good care of themselves. I thought I knew this topic inside and out – until I became a caregiver for my mom earlier this year.
This was my 84 year old mother’s third go-round with cancer, so it wasn’t as if we hadn’t been through the diagnosis-treatment-side effects rabbit hole before. I also have two sisters who were very involved; we all live locally, divided up tasks and no one pulled rank. AND my mom had Long Term Care insurance, so we had the financial flexibility to bring in extra care when we needed it.
Really, if your family must go through this kind of very challenging time, mine was staged for the least amount of stress and discord possible.
And yet…. I found myself spread too thin, trying to juggle work responsibilities, home responsibilities, marriage responsibilities, MY own health responsibilities. Even though the logical part of my brain was all too familiar with hospitals, rehab, home health services and insurance claims, the emotional core of me – my mother’s daughter – was in zombie land.
My mom ultimately made the decision to stop fighting, and she died as she wanted: peacefully, in her own home with her family surrounding her. Even after her passing, my sisters and I still had SO much to do in settling her affairs – a reminder that being a care giver doesn’t just end with the loved one’s death.
And about a month ago I came down with the nastiest cold I’ve had in a long time. I believe getting sick was my body’s way of telling me, “Look, if you don’t have enough good sense to slow down, I’m going to make sure you take some time for yourself!”
This entire experience has reinforced what I knew anecdotally, and what I now know essentially as truth: If you are in a caregiver role, you MUST take good care of yourself. Be smarter than I was, with all my years as a professional Social Worker. Don’t make your body learn the lesson for you.