Memories of family caregiving days with my Mom have come back like it was yesterday, as I hold the hand of my dearest friend who is unexpectedly passing away, far too quickly. She fought a fierce battle with breast cancer for a year; the outcome seemed so hopeful. She was vigilant in changing her diet and getting back to her day to day life, and suddenly, she wasn’t feeling well and then progressively worse.
We had a conversation about test results she received, and when the tears came through the phone, she said, I just can’t tell you right now. A strong, loving woman that gave so much to life and others told me two days later that cancer returned with a vengeance, and she had less than six months to live.
My days and nights go by in a blink, and just when I think I’ve fallen asleep, I turn in bed only to awake and run the tapes of “…what if, if only…”
I quickly jumped in to coordinate in-home care for the family to ease the day-to-day caring and put together checklists for the time that follows my friend’s death. I’ve held her hand, rubbed her back, reminisced of days gone by, and know as I walk out the door in a ball of tears that her time is very short and the loss that lies ahead will be painful for so many.
Breathing Spaces encourages family caregivers to practice self-care because of its importance for both you and ultimately your loved one, yet my own self-care quickly became obsolete. So very easy to do in the throws of caring for a loved one, time becomes irrelevant, and the tapes that play in your head become daunting. It was the voice of my sister that said, “Caregiver, care for yourself” that brought me to a standstill.
Regardless of whether you are in the same four walls or not, your heart and your mind are with the ones that you love. Memories of days gone by, the angst of worrying about what comes next, or the rearview mirror of “….why didn’t I..” happen so quickly. You are a caregiver around the clock and self-care slips before you know it. I am here to remind you, you CANNOT run on empty.
In 1997, President Clinton proclaimed November to be National Family Caregivers Month for the first time, and every president since has followed suit by issuing an annual proclamation recognizing and honoring family caregivers each November. We also celebrate you, knowing that you give so much of your life and your heart to your loved one.
There are no words that can explain the emotions, pain, angst, and desire to make it ‘right’ as you go through your days. Whether it’s taking a short walk, going for a massage, gardening, or reaching out to others for support, please don’t neglect yourself on this journey. When you run on empty, you cannot continue to give and will become ill yourself. It happens far too quickly.
Please take this month to start a practice of doing something every day for yourself.