(This piece originally appeared at TheCaregiverSpace.org )
I’m segueing into the role of caregiver for my aging parent quicker than expected. I left my 30-year music education career and Florida home behind to move back with my mother in my Kentucky hometown. The plan was to set myself up to be her caregiver well ahead of need, while I transitioned to working remotely as a freelancer.
LIFE’S CURVEBALLS AND SLEDGEHAMMERS
But things don’t always go according to plan. In fact, life hits with big moments whenever it damn well feels like it. Like many adult children, I’m facing the bittersweet reality of being a caregiver to my parent before either of us are ready. I thought I’d have time to ease into the role, but sometimes health issues pop up and wallop like a sledgehammer. What a wake-up call, being there when Mom is ill, pained face, weak and trembling, incoherent and out-of-it. Alone in that moment, feeling the full burden of being responsible for my parent’s well-being can be an emotionally scary place. Facing the impending reality of that final chapter in the cycle of life is, well, not for sissies.
Additionally, the foreign world of medical terms, increasingly busy schedule of doctor visits, insurance and co-pays, and daily living responsibilities can add up to an overwhelming mountain of pressure for the caregiver. I suddenly found I hadn’t anticipated how my own daily rhythm would be derailed, interrupted or flat-out sacrificed at times.
GET AHEAD OF THE CURVE
The learning curve comes swiftly, so I’ve found it best to get my game plan in place, and build my life-state to be ready to play. One important lesson I’ve discovered is the importance of taking care of myself first. Putting that oxygen mask on myself first enables me to ward against getting overwhelmed or sick, and to be better prepared emotionally, spiritually and practically as caregiver.
GET YOUR GAME ON
For me, that means I have to firstly protect my daily rhythm. In order to be effective in my freelance work, as a caregiver and more balanced in my wellness, I have to establish my own time. I rise early so I can pray, eat and have an uninterrupted workflow when I function at my best. I schedule exercise later in the day to maintain my energy. I use my smartphone calendar app to send me alerts so I stay, or get back on, task. Mapping out my own daily schedule and preserving it as best I can keeps me on top of things and less overwhelmed when Mom’s needs arise.
PLAN TO BE THERE IN ADVANCE
I’m grateful to have already settled in, so I’m here when Mom needs me. Not having to rush from another state, or even across town, or take off from my workplace, is one load of worry off our minds. My being in place takes some burden off my other family members who don’t have the liberty of leaving jobs, children or properties.
Keeping open communication with Mom and family members about Mom’s health, financial and social needs, as well as legal plans (healthcare surrogate, POA, will) distributes the load of caregiving and assures Mom that the family is onboard and unified to uphold her wishes. Getting things in place beforehand helps alleviate worry from caregiver, parent and other family members. In my family, this attempt to keep all in the loop brings us all closer in harmony to one another. For the caregiver, that support from family team players is indispensable to peace of mind, providing further strength for the tasks ahead.
KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW
Getting to know my mother’s daily rhythm gives me knowledge useful for effective emergency response. Being familiar with her usual mannerisms, daily lifestyle, energy, verbal and cognitive responses makes it easy to recognize when something in her health is not right. Paying attention to symptoms early on allows early detection and an upper hand in maintaining her wellness. Knowing her doctors, her medical visit schedule, medications, and health issues is powerful ammunition against mishaps and is preventative against health problems that could run undetected.
Although the role of caregiver can present itself sooner than anticipated, bringing unexpected, new challenges, I’m finding that having a game plan, a great team that communicates well, a strategy for maintaining my wellness, and tackling challenges with gusto allows me to respond well even to the hardest curveball.