Survival Skills For The Weary Caregiver

Last week I watched my nephew and my niece’s boyfriend riding a paddleboard on some very wavy water.  They balanced and paddled and battled the waves, both enjoying the challenge.  Every time a wave would knock them off they would get back on the board and try again.  I was ready for a nap after just watching them for thirty minutes.  They were determined and up for the challenge.  Eventually they got tired and hauled the board back to shore.  Oh to be young again!

As I watched them I was reminded of the number of times I was “knocked off the board” as we cared for David.  There were days I jumped back on the board as easily as Andrew and Andre did, ready for the next challenge.  But there were many other days I was knocked off and felt as if there was no way I could get back on the caregiving paddleboard again.  I would watch another ability disappear, a friend no longer calling or stopping in to say hello, a fall, an aide calling at the last moment to say they couldn’t work leaving us to cancel a night away and I felt like giving up.  I didn’t have the strength nor endurance to get back up again.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the choice of simply saying, “Hey I’m tired, let’s call it day and go get a beer!”  As David’s dad and caregiver I had to press on in loving and caring for him.

Over the thirteen years of caring for David, Brenda and I developed some practices that helped us get back up when we didn’t feel like we wanted to or felt so overwhelmed we couldn’t.  Here are a few that I hope will help you:

  • Take one day at a time! 

The moment you add tomorrow or next week’s challenges to today’s struggles you are guaranteed to be knocked down.  Guaranteed!   You have enough in your bucket with today’s “waves” so why add tomorrows IEP meeting, next week’s doctors appointment, or who will be your child’s teacher next year?  Worrying about something that is going to happen in the future that you have no control of until it comes is a wave you can not paddle through or conquer.  I like how Jesus taught this same principle in Matthew 6,

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Did we always succeed?  No.  But as we practiced living and embracing and enjoying the day, we always did much better.

  • Cling to what you know to be true! 

Very often when the waves of caregiving are high and scary we can easily loose perspective and get disoriented.  All of our energy and attention are focused on the waves and not on the person we are caring for.  When this happens we are prone to believing lies about ourselves, God, and even the one you are caring for.  So Brenda and I had two or three bible verses that we held tightly to to remind us of what is true.  Here are a few that really helped us.

  1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…He says “Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:1,10)
  2. Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
  3. Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Mathew 11:28)
  • Always believe there is nothing more important than what you do as your child’s caregiver!

I believe with all my heart that David was entrusted to me by divine appointment.  I had the privilege to be his dad.  I fed him, bathed him, taught him to ride his bike, read to him, and disciplined him as a child.  Little did I know that later in his life as an adult I would still feed him, bathe him, give him rides on a tandem bicycle, read to him, and at times discipline him as a little child.  Everyday we reminded ourselves that there wasn’t anything more important than loving and caring for all three of our boys.

So tomorrow when you set up the feeding tube for your son, remind yourself there is nothing more important for you to do.  Tomorrow when you daughter needs a diaper change, do it knowing that there is nothing more important than meeting her need for a dry and clean diaper.  Tomorrow when your son throws a fit in the middle of Tops grocery store and everyone is gawking, remind yourself there is nothing more important than helping your son know he is safe and that you are there for him.

How many times have the waves knocked you over this week?  Seven?  Get up and stand up!  You can do it.