Save yourself. It’s a thought that goes against the grain of a family caregiver’s typical mindset. Others – especially our loved ones – come first, right?
Selflessness is at the core of many of our faith beliefs. “Put the needs of others before our own.” We naturally want to do everything we can for the people we love, but it’s hard to protect ourselves from the emotional stress that comes with it.
My father, who will turn 92 in June, asked me last night not to pray for a longer life for him, but rather that he won’t suffer at the end. He’s given up on the idea that things will get better, and that makes me sad. He’s already done a fair amount of suffering, as did my mother-in-law who died last fall at age 93.
And, for me, that is the worst kind of emotional stress. Knowing that I can’t fix Dad is a tough fact to face. After all, Dad always fixed things for me.
I still remember when he strolled into the hospital recovery room after my tonsillectomy at age 10 with the news that I would be fine because tonsils were a long way from my heart. It made sense to me and, since I recovered, his prognosis was right on. Problem solved.
There have been times in the past year when Dad has wanted me to fix him. If I could just find that doctor who might have the magic cure, he could feel better. I tried and failed.
I talk with my father nearly every night, and he often brings the conversation around to how poorly he’s feeling and how he’ll probably never feel good again. My dad has always loved life. And he still wants to live it to the fullest. Who can blame him? How do I not let that get to me as a family caregiver? I’m still trying to figure that one out.
I went into this family caregiving gig armed with the best of information. As a senior care writer, I’ve had access to the nation’s top stress experts.
So as I entered this stage of life I was going to protect myself from what I knew could be a dangerous health issue. I’ve been exercising a lot, trying to watch my weight, praying and attending church, and staying in touch with family and friends. At the beginning of the year, I started an audio Bible program that is so soothing. It reminds me of my mother reading to me at bedtime as a child.
In spite of all of that, stress has crept into my life in insidious ways. I’ve struggled with digestive issues during the past year. I’ve battled depression. And, on the heels of my husband’s successful prostate cancer surgery, I’ve come down with a case of the flu that I’m having trouble shaking. I’m becoming the statistic I’ve always written about.
So how do I save myself when the stakes are high and I want to do the right thing? I’m still working on that. Do you have any advice? I would love to know what you think.
One thing I do know is we can’t let stress win. When we don’t save ourselves first, everyone loses.
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