‘Tis the CAREgiving Season: The holiday/caregiving balance.

I love the holidays!  Decorations, glowing fireplaces, winter wonderlands, Bing Crosby, and gift-giving.  Long chats with family of days gone-by and sounds of children laughing while opening gifts.  But, the holidays can also be a stressful period.  From long lines at the checkout counter and limited holiday budgets to delayed flights and burnt cookies….it’s not all holiday cheer.  Now, add caring for an ailing loved-one to the seasonal stressor list!  How can you de-stress, be a nurturing caregiver, AND enjoy holiday cheer? Maybe I can provide useful advice and keep your holidays merry and bright.

1.)  Exercise

Don’t neglect yourself.  Caregiving is demanding and time-consuming.  Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.  Exercise is easily neglected by NON-caregivers during the holidays.  Caregivers are no exception.  However, they tend to neglect themselves because of constant dedication to an ailing loved one….not for numerous holiday house parties.  Allow 30 minutes a day for de-stressing exercises.  I prefer yoga or pilates.  Both are mind and body exercises focusing on breathing and elongating muscles.  If you enjoy a more intense workout, try this 20 minute full-body at-home workout.  De-stressing and high-intensity workouts aid your focus and concentration.  After a long day of balancing caregiving duties, baking cookies, and gift wrapping, a mind and body cleanse is welcomed!

2.)  Embrace the Situation

Caregiving is positive not negative.  The amount of joy you bring to the patient’s life is immeasurable.  Embrace your current situation and enjoy time spent in the company of your loved-one.  Realize the gift of giving not receiving.  You give happiness to an individual who may have been hopeless without your unselfish devotion.  Making the best of a difficult situation benefits all involved.  The patient doesn’t feel like a burden and the caregiver feels appreciated!

3.)  Throw a Party

Holidays bring to mind thoughts of parties and family get-togethers.  Relatives reminiscing and laughing about their unique seasonal experiences.  However, because of a demanding schedule and lack of respite care, caregivers are often excluded from these holiday activities.  Bring the holiday cheer to you and throw a memorable party.  My grandmother and I loved having a small number of guests over on Christmas Eve.  It gives you and your loved-one an opportunity to socialize and enjoy the meaning of the holidays….togetherness.  Nothing beats a good party, so turn the music up and put on your dancing shoes!

4.)  Decorate

We’re all aware of our situations and the constant stress engulfing our lives.  Caring for an ailing loved-one can make the holidays depressing.  This may be his last Thanksgiving….She may not see the New Year.  Yes, the holidays can give you a heavy heart.  But, try not to dwell on the what-if’s and focus on the here-and-now.  I’ve found that decorating for the holidays lifts spirits and makes days more enjoyable.  Engage your patient in the festivities.  My grandmother loved handing me the decorations for our Christmas tree.  The joy and happiness seen on her face when the tree was finally lit is a memory I will forever cherish.  We turned a difficult situation into happy memories!

Caregiving brought new meaning to my holidays.  I was able to embrace togetherness and enjoy the small moments with my grandmother.  We often miss the joy and seasonal spirit of the holidays because of our fast-paced lifestyles.  Caring for my grandmother allowed me to slow down and appreciate the gifts around me.  Hopefully my caregiving tips will help you minimize stress so you can enjoy the holidays.  After all, you’re entitled to a little holiday cheer too!  Please share!  Take care and thank you for reading!

A Day in My Life as a Caregiver

10:00 PM….I transfer my grandmother from wheelchair to bed via hoyer lift and begin our nightly routine.  Undress, bathe, dress, dental care, administer medication, get comfy, and hope for the best.  “Good night, grandmom.  Try to get some sleep….morning comes early.”  I turn off the lights, kiss her on the cheek, and grab any available blanket.  I fall into my bed….the sofa next to my grandmother’s home hospital bed.  Thoughts of tomorrow wander through my mind before finally closing my eyes.

12:00 AM….I hear the sheets rustling on my grandmother’s air mattress.  She can’t sleep….the cramps in her legs are excruciating.  “No problem grandmom.  I will put you in your recliner.”  I walk across the living room and retrieve her hoyer lift.  The hoyer lift mat is strategically placed…I begin to lift her from bed.  And, incontinence strikes!  It isn’t her fault that bending motions cause her to urinate.  “No problem grandmom.  I will get you washed-up and changed into clean clothes.”

12:45 AM….Bathed, dressed, and two transfers later, she is in her beloved recliner.  The leg cramps are still painful….the reclined position was no help.  “No problem grandmom.  Let me massage your legs and see if that relieves the pain.”  She nods.

2:00 AM….The pain seems to be subsiding a little.  Grandmom wants to go to bed.  “Sounds good Grandmom.  Let me get your hoyer lift.”  Recliner to wheelchair, wheelchair to bed, the hoyer lift mat is removed….another successful transfer.  And, incontinence strikes! “Ok grandmom.  Let’s get you bathed, changed, and comfy.”

2:30 AM….“Goodnight grandmom.  See you in the morning.”  But it is already morning!  I fall into bed hoping this time it will last.

6:30 AM….My alarm clocks sounds.  I quietly leave the comfortable sofa and tip-toe upstairs.  A quick change into workout clothes and my morning workout routine begins. These 30 minutes of freedom are frequently interrupted by my wandering mind….I better check on grandmom and make sure she’s alright.  Running up and down stairs is excellent cardio!

7:00 AM….Going downstairs, I’m met with grandmom’s bright eyes….MY 30 MINUTES of the day are over.  “Good morning grandmom.  Ready to get dressed?”  And so begins our early morning routine.  Undress, bathe, dress, dental care, administer medications, transfer into wheelchair.  The day has begun.

12:30 PM….By now, my grandmother has been transferred 3 times.  Incontinence never fails to burden each transfer.  Why so many transfers?  She must be repositioned every 1-2 hours in order to prevent skin breakdown.  It’s her favorite time of day….the daytime soap operas are on CBS!  We sit together and watch the drama surrounding TV families and try to forget the drama here at home.

5:00 PM….Three transfers later and it’s dinner time.  I eat standing up in the kitchen because I choose not to eat in front of my grandmother….she is fed through a feeding tube.  Guilt surrounds me during each meal.  The woman who taught me how to cook is unable to eat.  Why is life so unfair?

6:30 PM….Grandmom and I retreat to our favorite room….the four season room at the front of the house.  We watch nature from the surrounding windows and talk of days gone by.  She laughs at my stories of younger siblings.  I laugh at her facial expressions to the town gossip.  I would give anything to have these moments back.

8:30 PM….Grandmom chooses her favorite record from the collection.  We dance/roll around the 1st floor of our home without a care in the world.  Right now nobody is sick or ailing….all is right in the world.

9:30 PM….“Welp, it’s that time again.  Time to get ready for bed.”  She smiles and yawns.  We begin our nightly routine.  “Goodnight, grandmom.  Sleep tight.”  I kiss her on the cheek and fall onto my welcoming sofa.  I stare at the ceiling and pray she wakes up in the morning.  

Caregiving never stops.  It’s a physically demanding job with little rest.  Your eyes may be closed but your mind is constantly working.  Care for yourself so you can care for others.  Thank you and GOOD LUCK!  

Caregiver stress….YES it’s real!

You have a B.S. in Chemistry….what do you know about caregiver stress?  A lot more than you think.  If you’ve had the time to read my others posts, you realize I’m a CHEM enthusiast.  Five grueling years of mathematics and chemistry courses to garner my degree and academic distinction amongst peers.

It was at the beginning of these five years that my caregiving journey began. My grandmother had a stroke when I first entered college….I was 18 years old.  The stroke left her with right-side paralysis and speaking difficulties.  My family and I were faced with a decision….who will care for her?  My older brother was working full-time and my younger brother was still in high school.  Then there was me….the college bound Jersey girl with big Chemistry dreams.  Who says the middle child isn’t the best child?  Faced with the dilemma of nursing home or homecare, I spent many days in a daze thinking about the future.  What’s more important, the happiness of my grandmother or my career path? Hands down….the happiness of my grandmother.  So, in 2004 my grandmother and I embarked on a memorable 11 year journey.

As I said earlier, I was 18 years old when my caregiving journey began and my grandmother was 73.  How was I going to convince this, up until now, extremely independent woman that I was capable of caring for her during her time of need?  My grandmother’s thoughts were written all over her face….I’m going to be dependent on this teenage girl, who barely knows how to drive or cook?  Yes.

There we were, two women separated by decades, expected to get along and balance life.  Easier said than done.  Although I chose to care for my grandmother, I didn’t want to delay my education.  So, I decided to balance caregiving and college.  It was difficult, but doable!  Besides, the life skills I was learning through my Chemistry course work were coming in pretty handy at home.  My grandmother’s recovery was slow, but steady.  She never recovered from the paralysis, but was successful in overcoming her eating and speech difficulties.

Fast forward 5 years….2009.  I just graduated college with my degree in Chemistry and WHAM, grandmom had another stroke!  Not again.  This stroke left her completely dependent on me.  Because of the seriousness of her condition, I wouldn’t be able to work and I WASN’T putting her into a healthcare facility.  I became my grandmother’s 24-hour caregiver.  From feeding tubes to tracheostomies….we covered it all!  I should have majored in healthcare!

From 2009 until her death in 2015, I cared full-time for my grandmother.  It was during these 5-6 years I suffered from caregiver stress.  When you say you’re a caregiver, people jump to the conclusion that you don’t work, stay at home, eat bon-bon’s, and watch television all day.  These people couldn’t be more wrong!  Caregiving is a full-time job with a lot of overtime.  You sleep when the patient sleeps.  Caregivers are at the mercy of the patient’s schedule.  Adapting to this schedule is difficult and can’t be achieved overnight.  Realistically, you may never adapt to the schedule….you just go with the flow.  That flow involves many sleepless nights and hours of direct contact healthcare.  No sleep and hours of helping the patient causes mental and physical exhaustion.  There’s no break from these relentless hours and no one to relieve you from your duties.  It’s just you and your patient….just me and grandmom!

Days turned into nights and nights into days, but one thing stayed constant, my devotion to my grandmother.  Just when I thought I could no longer deal with the stress of caregiving, there she was smiling and nodding, letting me know how grateful she was for my presence.

Don’t let caregiver stress deter you from caring for your loved-one.  Caregiving is HARD, but with proper knowledge and resources you can avoid stress and burnout.  Thank you for reading and take care!