Thursday, April 22, 2010


As a caregiver, you've got your Mini-vacations and your Pauses-of-the-Day. Now let's talk about GOTM, the Gift-of-the-Month. This is a break of at least 3 hours, half a day or more, to do something fun, something for yourself. I call this the Gift-of-the-Month, but if you can arrange a morning or an afternoon off during each week, take the opportunity.

A GOTM is an extended breather, time completely away from caregiving.

I do realize that as a caregiver, when you can arrange several hours away, your first thought is to "catch up". There are errands to run, maybe a seminar to attend that will increase your knowledge of your parent's condition and the resources available to you, household tasks you've let fall behind. And if finishing a list of errands relieves your spirit, there's nothing wrong with that.

Just remember the fortifying power of a GOTM that is a complete gift. A gift to you. For you. For no one else.

Remember this the next time someone asks, "Can I help?" or "Can I do anything for you?" or "What would you like for your birthday?"

Be prepared to say, "I'd like you to help me take an afternoon (or a day) off."

Right now, brainstorm a little about what you could do if you had several hours or a full day free. Then you can ask for help in arranging that time off. In the next few posts, we'll talk more about what might be part of those gifted hours.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Long Distance Comfort

I've been out of town on a business trip, and the week away reminded me of the trips I made back to my hometown while caring for my Mom. Long-distance caregiving is defined as living over 30 minutes away from the elder who needs care. This definition is a practical one. If you spend 30 minutes driving to and from your parent's place and spend an hour or two handling the current situation or visiting, you have spent the morning or afternoon in caregiving. You will have to arrange to be away from your job or find childcare during that time.

Today I'd like to talk to those of you whose parents live a day's drive away or more. In your case, a daytrip is not possible. Your visits may mean at least a weekend or more.

There are many aspects of longer-distance eldercare that are worrisome and difficult, but one of the most unsettling things is that, for bursts of time, you will be traveling and living in a place that is unfamiliar—your parent’s home (which is no longer yours), a relative's apartment, a hotel room. You will be without the surroundings that give you comfort. Your spouse, life partner or children may or may not be able to go with you, so another part of your support is missing.

These times away from home will be stressful. Don’t add to the stress by cutting yourself off from everything that makes you smile and feel comfortable. You are doing your best for your parent. Plan for Mini-vacations and Pauses-of-the-Day. Pack a bit of home to take with you. Think about where you'll be staying and what will give you most pleasure. Consider...

  • Tapes, downloads or CD’s of your favorite music. Don’t forget to bring along a player if your parent doesn't have one.
  • Keep your cell phone with you, even if you turn it off. Make sure you have the phone numbers of your best friends on speed dial in case you need some long-distance hugs.
  • Plan on watching that favorite ball game or sports event on TV.
  • Bring your favorite pajamas, robe or quilt, something to relax in after a stressful day.
  • Bring a stuffed animal (this is no time to be shy about Fluffy!).
  • To move your whole body, pack walking or exercise clothes and shoes.
  • If cooking or baking relaxes you, bring your favorite recipes to cook or bake your favorite foods.
  • Pack your personal journal to let out those pent up emotions.
  • Bring your favorite books--in paper, electronic reader, or tape.
  • If this is a visit of longer than a weekend, plan to do one favorite thing while you’re there—take in a movie, golf, visit a museum.
  • DVD's of movies or TV shows slip easily into luggage. Bring something that will make you laugh or escape into a fictional world. Don't forget a player.
  • Bring bubble bath, favorite cologne, scented candles, a picture of your significant other.
  • For longer stays, consider bringing your pet if the situation will not be unsuitable or tax you further.
  • Bring your favorite coffee, tea, soda pop, foods. Your own brand of coffee in the morning can brighten the day.
You have the idea. Pack up your comfort and take it with you.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Move Your Whole Body

There's a Curves gym a short walk from my house, and I just got back from a good, relaxing workout. I have to admit that words like "exercise", "workout" and "gym" bring to mind images of a roomful of sweaty people who look determined but not very happy. I've tried to change my mind set to "move your whole body" every day.

For a Mini-vacation that may mean walking up and down the stairs 3 times or doing knee lifts for 1 minute; for a Pause of the Day, that may mean a walk around the block (twice if you have little blocks) or mopping the kitchen floor.

Yesterday, "move your whole body" meant transferring winter clothes from the master bedroom into another bedroom closet and moving the spring/summer clothes in. It took 30 minutes of hauling clothes from one room to another and folding things into drawers. Talk about your weight training, cardio, and stretching!

Other days, it means Tai Chi or an exercise video or calisthenics chosen from a FitDeck. Some days I take two breaks--one to vacuum the downstairs, another to vacuum the upstairs.

My aunt doesn't run through the commercials on her recorded TV shows. During the commercials, she gets up and walks around room. For an hour show, there's 15 minutes of movement without even trying hard. Chasing your dog, chasing your children, chasing your spouse (Ooh La La!). All these count.

If your parent is wheelchair-bound and taking her out for a roll would give you both pleasure, then go ahead.

You don't have to think "sport" or "workout". Just think "Get up off my backside and move my whole body." And make sure that PLEASURE is a key component of the experience.

Take some time right now. What activities can you identify that are not sports or traditional exercise, but that allow you to move? What do you already have available to you (videos, a gym close by, a jump rope, catchy music with a beat) that you can have on hand for a Mini-vacation or POD? What types of movement do you enjoy or that complete a chore you'd like to finish?

Blessings on your movement...and your caregiving!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Express Your Thoughts and Feelings in Writing

Friends and family can be great listeners, and we take full advantage of their gift to share our troubles and our joys, to work out a particular issue, to discuss options, or to get a hug or a smile of encouragement.

For some hurts, for some emotions, at some times in our lives, sharing verbally does not make the grade. Talking is speedy, impermanent. Spoken words lift into the air like feathers or bullets; most go unattended; some drop like rocks on the people we love. Texting has even more quickness about it, and no time for real depth and introspection.

Writing, on the other hand, is an activity that engages your mind, all your senses, and is physical. Writing is the safest way I know to pour out everything. I've written things, confessed things in my journal that I could not reveal to anyone, even to my psychological counselors.

And that is the first requirement of a writing space...privacy and safety. I know that many people like to journal on their computer or PDA, and that is certainly the way to go if it allows you the privacy to express your deepest emotions.

I truly prefer writing by hand. It's slower, gives you ample time for thought without the blinking cursor pulsing with the message to "Get on with it, why don't you!". And my computer actually hums at a low pitch while it blinks at me. Handwriting is blessedly silent, quiet, unassuming.

Handwriting has a sensual component (sensual meaning that it engages many of your senses). You can choose a pen, or several; choose an ink color; choose a pencil; choose which type or size of paper or journal or notebook you'd like to use. A composition book or writing journal, lined paper or unlined, decorated or not, thick cotton paper or thin onion skin--all add to the experience, the intimacy, the comfort. If you're using a notebook, you can add in articles you've read or pictures that speak to you.

A paper book is very portable and does not rely on a battery or plug. PDA's are portable, too, so it's all about what feels right for you.

Handwriting lends itself to a flow of consciousness style. With handwriting, you're less likely to edit as you go. You just write. Doesn't matter that it's not grammatically correct. It doesn't matter if you curse or rail away at the Fates. The journal is for you. The writing is for you. No one else will read it (unless you want them to).

And my very favorite reason for a paper can write 24/7. No one else clamoring for the computer. No need to boot up equipment and get sucked into social networking or e-mail. Open the journal or slip out a piece of paper, grab a pen...and write.

My journaling time is usually 3AM. There's something about that hour that wakes me when I'm under stress. The only way to calm my racing thoughts and express my emotions and deepest longings is to journal by hand. The soft light of a candle or one table lamp by my side. Me, curled on the couch or the window seat. Writing everything that flows through my mind until I feel the words slow down and finally stop. When the writing flow finishes, I can sleep.

I return to my late-night writings every so often. They tell me how much I've grown, how far I've come. They remind me that I have survived other crises, revelled in other joys...and so I shall again.

A post from the Productivity 501 blog, Using Different Parts of Your Brain, says that research discovered that different parts of your brain are activated depending on whether you write by hand or on computer. And the difference is more than what can be accounted for by the different motor activities. This finding argues for using both methods to tap into your healing and expressive potential. Thinking of that and my own preferences, I do use computer journaling tools for some sharing and handwriting for others.

But it has been with pen and paper that my most intense inner work and emotional release have occurred.

Privacy, comfort, portability, engaging the senses, reviewing your progress--all of these enhance your journaling experience. But no matter how you choose to express yourself in writing, take time daily. It's a perfect Pause of the Day.

Blessings on your caregiving!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Work With Your Hands

Many of the activities that you do as a caregiver are mentally exhausting. Doing your parent's taxes, trying to figure out a new way to encourage your mom to eat, reading up on treatment for your father's condition, arranging for care--all of these tax your brain. And the emotional stress adds another level of tiredness that seems to seep down to your bones.

One way to dispel that mental fatigue is a Pause of the Day (POD)--15 to 30 minutes--doing something with your hands, focusing on their movement, not on the present problem you're resolving. Choosing that "something" does take a little planning (yes, I know, more thought...but big payoff!).

The something should be:
  • An activity that you can do for a short time, put down and pick up tomorrow or next week without missing a beat.
  • An activity that is active. Your hands--better yet your whole body--are involved.
  • An activity that requires you to pay attention to what you're doing, either to avoid injury or to produce good results.

Let's just brainstorm for a moment. Knitting, crocheting, needlework, sewing, staining furniture, trimming bushes, weeding the garden, building models, creating stained glass light catchers, weaving, pottery, washing dishes by hand, checking the smoke detectors, dusting, sweeping, mending a sail, filling the birdfeeders...

What we're listing here is a mixture of hobbies and light household tasks. We've always labeled hobbies as "enjoyable", but we can also reframe household "chores" into household "pauses". I actually enjoy making the beds. I like the way each bed looks after I've smoothed the bedspread down and plumped the pillows. So I leave that pause until later in the day, take my time with it, and enjoy the result. I hate gardening, so pulling weeds for 15 minutes does absolutely nothing positive for my attitude, but you may find it's just the thing to put a pesky problem into perspective (lovely alliteration, LaVerne!).

As I noted, you may need to plan just a bit. If you want to work on refinishing furniture or on a sewing project that will span many "pauses", you'll need workspace that will be undisturbed until the next time you're ready for a pause. Because the lure of the activity may pull you into spending more time than you want to devote, set a timer. No need to add the frustration of overshooting your time limits to your day.

Pick an activity you like, set aside 15-30 minutes every day for enjoying that activity, set aside workspace if necessary and ... pause.

Blessings on your caregiving day!