I haven’t blogged since May 13, 2019. In fact, my writing actually came to a standstill in early March. The reason? My husband’s health began to decline and he entered in-home hospice care in May. He’s almost 97, a WWII vet (the Marines), a former athlete, a retired college professor and teacher, and all-around good guy. Age is his nemesis. Regardless of the effects of time and advancing years on his mind and body, he’s maintaining his sense of humor and enjoys people. His name is Tony. And I love him.
I dubbed myself a bumbling but well-intended Nurse Ratchet (Remember the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?) and quickly realized I was in over my head on how to care for Tony at home. My care techniques often were less than smooth or subtle. My learning curve occurred as I began to watch the professionals do their thing – from the nurse to the in-home health aid to the physical therapist to his private caregiver.
Our lives changed quickly after the arrival of hospice care. Tony’s legs gave out, making him no longer ambulatory. A hospital bed arrived. We’d made the decision to age in our home for as long as possible as opposed to going into a progressive living facility.
Hospice has proven to be invaluable. It provides many in-home services; however, Tony’s health care team is not on-site daily and when they’re here, they’re present only for as long as it takes them to complete the tasks in their skill sets. I began to feel overwhelmed and weighed down by the great responsibility, the guilt (Was I doing enough?), and anxiety. I knew I needed help.
I experienced several problems as the intensity of Tony’s new bed-bound status and the caregiving process began to settle in. I found I couldn’t concentrate on tasks of any depth. I couldn’t read a book. I couldn’t write. I had trouble sleeping. Stress and anxiety had entered my world. Depression had accompanied it. I didn’t realize how these feelings were slipping in and affecting me in my conscious and subconscious thoughts. But I felt a pull on my well-being.
One afternoon while reading The Gem, a local publication, I saw a class advertised for family caregivers. It was being held at the local wellness center nearby. I called, was able to enroll, and entered the twelve-week session. One of the best moves ever. I didn’t realize how strung-out I had become and how I felt like I was walking on my knees.
At the first class, I found myself in a room with seven other family caregivers. Some were caring for ailing husbands, others were caring for aging parents. Their stories and challenges proved as different as the constellations. The great weight of my feelings of isolation and intense responsibility lessened.
The first part of each class was instruction. Here are some of the topics:
Recognizing and Managing Stress
Legal and Financial Issues Related to Caregiving
Learning from Our Emotions
Grieving – A Natural Reaction to Loss
Living with Dementia
Taking Charge of Your Health
Asking for Help
The second half of the class began with the facilitator asking the simple question, “How was your week?” Obviously, this was the signal to begin sharing. As a caregiver, you learn you are not alone. I found inspiration from hearing the stories of others.
A big message of the class was to recognize that as a caregiver and manager, you must also take care of yourself or you will end up being of no use to your loved one or yourself. Part of self-care is knowing you need help. I have been fortunate to find a private health care professional to assist with Tony’s care. I have learned to block time for myself. It took a while to find the rhythm and structure for our particular situation.
We are fortunate to have friends and family who stop in to visit. Our master bedroom has become our living room. This is where we sit and visit, snack, eat, laugh, watch TV, and share stories. Tony enjoys his visitors and the laughter and caring they bring.
I felt a loss when the class ended. We’d bonded with each other, cheered each other’s progress and victories, lamented each other’s sadnesses and heartbreaks. I am grateful to the Riverside County Office on Aging for providing this valuable resource. A special thank you goes to our facilitator Guillermo Delgado, Program Specialist II of the Family Caregiver Support Program, for guiding us through our class and sharing sessions with skill, patience and kindness.
Caregiving is a two-pronged challenge – caring for your loved one and taking care of yourself to enable you to do your best. Yes, we got this!