Helping Yourself Help

I have been thinking lately about decisions I made for my mother.  During my day, I often run into people who are in some stage of being a caretaker for a parent.  Some are in the beginning stage of denial.  Some are in the panic stage of, what do I do now?  Others are in the end stage and either silently, or out loud, are praying for an easy death of their parent.  I recognize all of these stages, because, I experienced each one.

As I’ve said before, I don’t mind listening and giving advice when asked.  Sometimes the obvious is very clear to those looking in, but not clear at all when you are the participant.  Recently, I heard of a woman who was trying to work full-time and take care of her mother, who lives alone.  Not only does she live alone, but she cannot cook for herself, can’t get herself to the bathroom, can’t get herself dressed, the list continues.  Yet, this loving daughter is trying to figure out how to take care of her mother without bringing in extra help or removing her from her home.  As I write this, the situation sounds very obvious as to what needs to be done.  But, put yourself in that role and all kinds of emotional problems surface.  There are promises made: Mom, I won’t put you in a nursing home.  Of course I will always take care of you.  There are financial issues that come with many questions.  Can my parent pay for care?  What if my parent refuses to pay, but I need the help?  Can I take over financial control?

Personally, the most important conclusion I came to, after taking on the role of caretaker, and spending months becoming more and more stressed was to realize, I can’t do this on your own.  Struggling, without admitting you need help, leads to problems later.  I found, reaching out to others in the same situation helped me tremendously.  As I entered my caretaker role, there were others in the midst of it.  These people understood the ends and outs.  They were aware of doctors, facilities, and organizations that could help with guidance on what to do and what help was available.  They knew tricks on how to just get through the day.  For many women, and I say women because the caretaking generally falls to us, the decision to admit we need help can be covered with guilt.  But, guilt should not be involved.

As a caretaker, your first step is to take care of yourself.  If you fall ill or get hurt, then everyone is in trouble.  Bringing in help; taking hours, days, weekends off is not selfish, it is putting your role as caretaker first.  When you are rested then your patience comes easier.  The skills needed to handle your tasks flow smoothly.

The worst day of my life, and I can also say for my sister, was the day we took our mother to an Assisted Living Home for Dementia Patients.  Like many of her generation, Mom had a pre-conceived notion of a “nursing home”.  It took us hours to get her out of bed, dressed and into the car.  I still get emotional when I think of that day.  But, and this is huge, our mother grew to enjoy her new home.  She found she liked the independence of being out from under my control.  She made friends; the staff grew to love her.  As for our relationship, it returned to more of a mother-daughter one.  Since I was no longer trying to get her to take her medication, to bath, to eat, to go to sleep, to get out of bed, we could enjoy each other.  I took Mom out to lunch, we got her nails done.  She came to my house for holidays.  When she no longer felt comfortable doing those outings, we did puzzles and watched TV.

Looking back, each day seemed endless at times.  But, now I know, making the most of what time is left, and providing the best care, is essential.   Even if it means letting that care come from someone else.  Asking for and excepting help are all part of a good caretakers role. In the end, the decision to let go of some of my control was the best one I made as a caretaker.

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