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Family Caregivers: Save Yourselves!


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.

Georgene and her dad

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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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. April 12, 2016 at 12:34 am | Posted by Brenda Voss

    Just found this site it is wonderful. I have been looking for something like this. Thank you all for your comments


  2. March 23, 2016 at 1:30 am | Posted by Kathy

    It's easier to say than to do, but you have to be very strong mentally in remembering that if you fall apart, you can't care for your loved ones, and therefore, to allow yourself time to exercise, socialize, and eat well. It's also important to remember that your aging parent wouldn't want you to sacrifice your health for them, and remember to that, as you are aware that you will age and die some day, your parent has had many years to come to terms with it too. And even though they can't remember it now, you have to be able to forgive yourself for times when you can't be everything for them, and times when they feel abandoned even though you were there five minutes ago. You are one person, with a finite amount of energy and time. It is so important to think rationally, and care for yourself. It's very easy to fall prey to depression, and cognitive distortion therapy is very helpful and quick in its effects. It is statistically likely that caregivers will develop dementia too, from the stres, so you have to be your own advocate too, and protect yourself, and your children from your developing dementia. You are also modeling the correct behavior to your children, which is to take care of themselves too. There is an excellent paperback book called Feeling Good, with great tips on cognitive therapy. ( I want to say the author is Robert Burns? It's bright yelloW). It's a quick way to teach yourself not to beat yourself up for what may not be humanly possible. Blessings!


  3. March 18, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

    Miss you too, Cindy. Funny thing, I went by the ice cream freezer at the store just this week and noticed the cherry nut ice cream. I thought of you and almost bought some. But I would have eaten the whole thing! Miss you too! Let's get together.


  4. March 18, 2016 at 7:40 am | Posted by Bobbie

    Your story really resonated with me, as I also work in eldercare and have been a nurse for nearly 40 years. I care for my husband who was diagnosed with Alzheimers 3 years ago. My dad died in June and my mom is grief stricken. I can't bear to be an intimate observer of he pain....nothing I do can make any of this better. I've tried everything to stay healthy- yoga, exercise, counseling, healthy eating, more time with friends, painting- Ieven started drum lessons. That's actually helped the most. Despite all of this, I've can't shake viral illnesses, I've lost 10 pounds, and am recovering from shingles. Everything in my life seems to be about loss- every day. I need some happy. I've been reading a book called The Happiness's about seeing the positive side of things. We can actually retrain our brains to be happy....the ability to do that is called Neuroplasticity. The more I focus on the good things, the better I feel- and I actually think it has helped me to be more present for those who need me....and is getting me closer to accepting my journey.


    • March 18, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Dear Bobbie, So well said! I will have to check out that book. I agree. Focusing on positive and happy does make a difference. I watched "Steel Magnolias" again the other night and I keep thinking of the line from the Julia Roberts character Shelby where she tells Clairee: "There are still good times to be had!"


  5. March 17, 2016 at 2:16 am | Posted by Phyllis Hegstrom

    Georgene, I love you and miss seeing you. You are a good daughter and I know how much we want to fix our parents problems related to aging. Instead, the best we can do is normalize the aging process and accept significant changes as parents age.. Parents too need to accept the changes in their daily lives... Doesn't mean we have to like the obvious changes but we do need to rmrace and accept those changes.. This is actually easier than resisting the changes. Just sayin'!


  6. March 16, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Posted by Cindy Green

    Oh George I remember going to your house to field the mink with you:). I'm so sorry about your dad we're all at that place where we have to make tough decisions with our parents and although mom and dad are still living in their home I know it isn't going to last. You're going to make it thru all this and someday you'll look back with no regrets and be able to see that God was right there by your side the whole time. Miss you and love you. Cindy P.S. I still like cherry nut ice cream!


    • March 18, 2016 at 5:58 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Miss you too, Cindy, Funny thing is I went by the ice cream freezer at the store just this week and noticed the cherry nut ice cream. I thought of you and almost bought some. But I would have eaten the whole thing! Miss you too! Let's get together.


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