We have all heard about the emotional and physical toll caring for a loved one takes on the the caregiver. Many of us have experienced it firsthand. Stress, exhaustion, frequent colds, irritability, feeling helpless, and neglecting their own needs, are just a few common complaints of a long-term personal home caregiver.
Recently a very close friend, stressed by her care-taking situation, agreed to a girl-friends’ getaway with me for a few days. Her longtime love is older and sadly, he’s been in declining health for a few years now. She is one of the most caring, loving people I know, and the increasing day to day demands over the past year have left her exhausted. So, to take this personal time away was a gift she gave to herself. After making arrangements for his care, off we went on our not-quite-Thelma-and-Louise 3 day adventure.
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a sunny beachfront restaurant one afternoon, allowing time for one of those infrequent, yet cherished lengthy conversations. I was concerned about how she was really doing, so I asked her questions only a long-time trusted friend could ask, knowing I’d get an honest, thoughtful response. I asked her what has been most surprising and difficult for her now. Here are a few of her observations (and survival skills) about this time in her life.
- When she became his primary caregiver, she realized she lost him as her love partner and life companion and the balance of the relationship has forever shifted.
- The more she does, the more he has become dependent upon her. (And this was never a “needy” guy.)
- She recently became aware that, for a long time she’s been in denial about his decline. She’s become more realistic about his limitations and increasing physical needs, and especially how it’s impacted her.
- Although she tries to anticipate and plan for the unexpected, something always seems to happen. This causes extra stress and makes her feel inadequate (like she should’ve expected anything that might happen, of course.)
- To try to reduce her own depression about the situation, she keeps busy with activities and other people. These are enjoyable times, but they do add other activities to her already full life.
- She’s found if she has something positive to look forward to, it helps her get through the difficult times.
We enjoyed our wonderful little get-away and both vowed to do this more often. It’s a life experience most of us will encounter and we will need to get through. It’s also a time where there one are no easy answers, but through honesty and friendships, I believe we can help one another.