This June it will be one year since my mother died. As I have opened up about the final years of her life, others have shared with me the difficult journey they are on with their aging parents. I watch as one-by-one my friends and extended family are being initiated into a club none of them wanted to join. They work to be kind and loving children as they navigate the healthcare system on behalf of their parents, take over chores and tasks that were once routine for their mom or dad and manage not only their own finances but the finances of their parents. In short, they double their workload while living in an increasingly emotional environment.
As I listen to the heartbreak in their words, I want to offer comfort and encouragement to my friends. I caution them to take care of themselves because the stress they are experiencing is real and can be physically damaging. But how do you take care of yourself? There are many websites that discuss Caregiver Stress and how to manage it but it is not so easy. I lived a 1000 miles away from my mother but that did not lessen the stress. When I was in town participating in her care, I was exhausted and at times frustrated but when I returned home, I felt worried and guilty. Yes, when she was in the rehab center, the pressure was off a little. But then I worried whether she felt isolated and if she was getting good care. (Indeed her care was excellent but that still did not stop me from worrying.)
For me the real stress came from my inability to stop the mental and physical decline that my mother was on during her final years. I knew she did not want to give up driving but she had to. I knew she did not want to wear Depends but as her body started to fail, she had to. I knew she did not want to have strangers in her home to care for her but she had to. It was not easy for her and it was not easy for those who loved her.
Years ago I came to the understanding that the good times don't last but more importantly, the bad times don't last either. During particularly difficult times in my life, I have actually said this out loud as a reminder. As you walk this journey, capture those moments of laughter and joy when you can and know that there will come a day when the good times will return and your heart will no longer feel so heavy.