Dear Caregiver, (or anyone entrusted with the well-being of another)
I know you are doing a really good job taking care of your loved one. You know what kind of food they like the best, their favorite music and TV shows, and how to help them into and out of a car. You have been caring for them for a long time, and have sacrificed much, maybe a job, free time, space in your home, involvement in church or other activities. In a world where human life is being devalued, you are giving yourself to someone and honoring them the best way you know how and if you are a Christian, you are most likely serving, “as unto the Lord”
"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." (Colossians 3:23-24)
There are times when you enjoy the satisfaction of serving with kindness, and patience, and you are glad for the sanctifying work God is doing in your life through the difficulties you experience day-to-day. And then there are the other kind of days…
Frailty. Exhaustion. Frustration. Confusion. Caregivers live with a burden. It is a good and worthwhile burden to have, but still hard. Being in charge of another person’s welfare, is a daunting task. I want to remind you that you can and should share the load. Being physically worn out, and mentally burned out will not make you a better caregiver. Actually you do your loved one a disservice if you don’t take care of yourself.
Share the Load
As a caregiver for my husband, Gary for nine years, I disliked the phrase “the caregivers must take care of themselves first.” It sounded selfish to me. I guess, dropping the word, “first” from the phrase would make it a little more palatable. The fact is, that if the caregiver is a mess, they have nothing left to give. Just as the airlines know that adults need to get their own oxygen flowing BEFORE their kids’ oxygen, we need to be as healthy and rested as possible.
Sounds logical, right? Well then why are caregivers known for being burned out? For one thing, we don’t like to ask for help and if it’s offered we only want it on our terms. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I often thought I was the ONLY one who could take care of Gary well. PRIDE. Yep. In reality, we probably do know what works best, because we’ve been doing it the longest, but as long as our loved one is safe, and the help is reliable, and trained, it is a good thing, to have a little time to yourself, for shopping, relaxing, being in church and fellowship. There are many ways to do things, and sometimes we need to humbly learn from others. Our way is not always the best, and certainly not the ONLY way. I gained many good tips from Gary’s several caregivers, and volunteers who came to spend time with him. Gary went to Adult Day Health Care a few times a week for a couple years too. Even though I resisted the idea at first, he liked it and the programs there were designed for his level of ability. I’m glad a dear family member convinced me to give it a try.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Ecclesiates 4:9-10
Another reason for caregiver burnout is failure to GEAR UP for your situation! By this I mean, remember that depending on the cause of the dementia, it is not likely going to get better. Your loved one will get worse, so make use of the many helps available. Here are just a few examples: My friend, recently bought a “nanny cam” so she could keep her eye on her father, just a couple of rooms away. This allows her to get a good night’s sleep by just peeking at the monitor, and can see him still safely in bed, and she can go right back to sleep. The alternative was going down the hall to check on him several times a night. Another great help is fixing pureed meals for an entire week at a time. Have a caregiver do it, or do it yourself, but it’s a big time saver, especially if your loved one is not awake or eating on a normal schedule. You have their food at the ready when they are. So if your loved one is needing softer foods, consider investing in a blender. (See short video on meal prep HERE.) RAMPS YES, THROW RUGS NO…Eventually your loved one will shuffle or scissor-step, and will not do well with loose rugs to trip on. If you have even a slight step down you should have a ramp. (For more tips on Accessibility, click HERE.) Of course there’s a cost to these great tools, but figure out what you may need and do need now, and start asking around. If you know exactly what you need, you will know what to ask for. I realize there is a cost to these things. Start praying and be specific as to what you need. Maybe family members, who know the specifics will be able to help. God supplied all our needs, in sometimes surprising ways.
“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Lack of fellowship and worship can be really tough for Christians. We thrive on the spiritual friendships and encouragement we receive from other believers and we need to participate in corporate worship. Of course there may be seasons during a long illness when you will not be able to leave a loved one on a Sunday, but again, if you pray about it, and let God know your desire to continue with worship and fellowship (even if it is different than before), my experience was that God provided. I had to entrust Gary to someone, not “hand-picked,” but qualified, but he was in God’s hands and I had to exercise faith. Church attendance was limited and sporadic for me during those years, but it was so WONDERFUL when I could be with other believers singing praise to God and enjoying the preaching of the Word. In a pinch, I could Live-Stream the service, but it’s not the same.
“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25
So, my caregiving friend...
I hope some of these thoughts and ideas will be helpful and not burdensome for you. Mostly I just want you to be open to all kinds of help, both human and practical, and staying connected to your church. I know how heart-wrenching and wearing it can be to be responsible for a loved one. May you find contentment, and peace as you face each day by resting in Christ’s provision.
Love always, Laurie