It’s close to year end. Only about two weeks left in 2013. As I start to reflect on the previous 11 months, I’ve been thinking about how my role as a caregiver has changed this year and how it has changed even more during the past several years.
My role as a caregiver to my mom came to a halt in March when I said goodbye to her. There are no more parents for me to care for now that my mom has passed. (My dad died almost 25 years ago.) No more Hanukkah cards or presents to send to Flo-ree-da. No more mom calls on New Year’s Day with greetings for a happy and healthy new year. My phone was always on automatic dial to Flo-ree-da on January 1st.
The Taoist proverb that my teacher P shared in yoga class last week especially touched my heart: “We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”
I’ve kept myself very busy the past nine months since losing my mom. Have I been running to avoid facing my grief? Have I been running all these months because I am no longer her caregiver? Have I been running all these months because I don’t want to face these changes?
This week marks the sixth anniversary of my husband M’s passing. I was a caregiver to my spouse for 24 years of marriage. I learned how to care for M whenever his asthma attacked his breathing. I learned to take deep breathes myself when times got tough.
My role as a caregiver is deeply embedded. It is an important part of who I am.
“Be sure to wear your sunscreen when you’re on vacation in the Dominican Republic,” I told my son D before he left for vacation earlier this month. He smiled and shook his head. Did I say that my son D is an adult with a job in finance in NYC? I will always be a caregiver to my daughter A and my son D. I am forever their mom.
“I’m retired so go ask your silly little question to someone who cares!” states a plaque that hangs in my home office. This year I retired my caregiver role in the workplace. After 30 years of answering questions and taking care of my staff and others, my corporate career came to a close in April. There’s only one person to care for during my work life after 50 and that’s me. “If you don’t take care, you have no one to blame but yourself,” said my coach D.
I wrote my checks for my yearly community giving. A donation to the Boys and Girls Club in honor of my late husband M. A donation to the Girl Scouts in recognition of my mom P. A gift for the Jewish Federation to support their programs for the elderly. A donation to the Food Bank to help feed the hungry.
My role as a caregiver still felt empty. But then I received an email from my webmaster.
“B Two Design is working with Virtua Hospital’s Early Intervention Program to help sponsor local families for the holiday season. Virtua is looking for local business people interested in sponsoring South Jersey families. Sponsorship involves purchasing gifts from a child’s wish list (i.e. from Santa).”
OMG! OMG! OMG! The chance to play Santa to two little girls in need was exciting. My oxytocin levels were on high as I picked out several outfits, jackets and accessories for the two sisters J and S. I packed each outfit in a separate box so the girls will have lots of gifts to open on Christmas Day. I made sure that each child has the same number of gifts. (Ooh, ooh, ooh, I tried to be exact, but when I went to pack up the gifts I noticed that I bought an extra item for J. I just couldn’t resist the tiny animal slippers.)
I’m starting to set my intentions for 2014. I want to continue to slow down and practice mindfulness and yoga. I want to continue to slow down and quiet the waters so I can reflect like the Taoist proverb states: “It is only in still water that we can see.” My role as a caregiver is changing during my life after 50. Perhaps in the new year I will better define next steps. I’m taking off my running shoes. Can’t wait to see my reflection in the water.
Disclosure: I am a member of AARP’s Blogger Kitchen Cabinet On Caregiving. All opinions are my own.
For more tips on caregiving during the holidays check out the Caregiving At the Holidays video on the WHOA! Network. WHOA co-founder Darryle Pollack gathered a group of experts to discuss caregiving at the holidays and creative ways to celebrate and create new traditions. The video features helpful suggestions from Amy Goyer, AARP Family and Caregiving Expert; Dresden Shumaker, of CreatingMotherhood.com; and Kelley Connors of KC-Health.
I am a 67 yr. old boomer…. Had caregiving experience with both of my parents & a brother who has mental issues. My husband is in the hospital as we speak. I applaud your efforts & your “spunk”. (I don’t want to send another tree in Israel anytime soon….Please God). What are your suggestions for those of us who must work & still caregive….. ? Stay Well & enjoy your retirement !!
Sharon, thanks for your comment and well wishes. I am sorry to hear that your husband is ill. May he have a speedy recovery. My recommendation to those who are working and caregiving is to make sure you take care of yourself. Don’t forget the caregiver needs care too. Get rest, give yourself a break every so often, and be kind to yourself. I know when I was a caregiver I was very hard on myself. Take time off and give yourself a gift of alone time or time with friends. Whatever you need – even a cup of cocoa and a chocolate chip cookie cured my stress.
Judi… I sat down for a few moments at my desk and began to watch the snow fall so gently as dusk approaches and remembered that I had to make a call to my husband to bring my Mom dinner and a nice, hot cuppa coffee. The roads were not good to travel and my husband insisted that he could take care of my Mom today. It’s the “still” that you speak of that I must embrace in this New Year… like watching the snowfall. I must approach my Caregiving a little more gently on myself… letting others take over now and then, if even just for delivering my Mom’s favorite chicken soup and coffee. I need to be “still” for my Mom, too – still with her as we chat or eat or visit with my grandkids – “still” as in seeing our reflections clearly because I don’t know when those reflections will be ripples and waves. Your post today centered me in a way I want to be. BE. Thank you for this. Isn’t it a miracle how sharing gives us such strength in the gentlest of ways…
Sharon, I so appreciate your comment today. It is the reason I blog. When I make a difference or touch a person in the way you write, it is most rewarding. Credit also goes to my yoga teacher P and my yoga teacher N. They share wisdom with me every day. I love every class I attend not only for the physical exercise, but for the spiritual words they share at the beginning or end of each class. It is a reminder to stop DOING and try to BE more as your say. Enjoy your holidays with your family.
Lovely thought-provoking post Judy. I am a caregiver to my husband who suffers from CFS. The job became much easier when I realized that he felt guilty for being ill, and I felt guilty for never living up to my own standards of permanent patience. We decided to give each other a big break and that has helped a lot!
Thanks for sharing your “still water” practice.
Laura, so sorry to hear about your husband’s illness. I’m sure it is difficult to manage through. I’m glad my post and practice made an impact. I know when I was a caregiver to my husband and to my mom the person who was hardest on me was me. Be kind to yourself. It is important to take care of the caregiver.
Thank you for reminding me to “remember” why I need to continue going to yoga class. I’m 61, and have a 19 year old freshman in college and a 13 year old daughter who just started her period. Stillness? My family is in another state and my significant other of 9 years is in yet another. So, I am the caregiver of many although none are ill as of this writing. I am so grateful for that. Stillness? I will hold that word in my awareness today and recognize it as a reflection in my physical presence and in my voice as I care take my loved ones, and myself (in yoga class). I loved your blog.
Cassandra, your comment means so much to me. I’m glad you are going to continue your yoga. Take care of yourself. The best to you and your family.
Enjoyed your story. I wonder what it will be like if I reach the “other side” of caregiving. My wife’s movement disorder very gradually becomes worse but thankfully she is not in immediate danger – although choking is always a concern.
It was nice to type hashtag #caregiver in twitter and find a real caregiver, and not those providing services for caregivers.
Don, thank you for your nice note. Sorry to hear about your wife’s illness. It sounds like you are a good husband and caregiver. Best wishes for a happy new year.
I always think of you this time of year and am sending lots of hugs your way. I also wanted to let you know that I am becoming a little yogini – I put down my running shoes, too, and have kept up with yoga these past two months. Running shoes are so last year – yoga pants are the new asics :). Thank you for inspiring me!
Sheri, I greatly appreciate your support and kindness. So glad I inspired you to pursue your yoga. It is wonderful and I hope you enjoy your practice. Remember it is a practice, no judgement on the mat. Be well. Namaste.