The winter months have been a blur for me this year. My 12-year-old has been sick now for over five weeks, and her doctors still don’t know what is wrong with her. Vials of blood have been drawn, general practitioners and then specialists have been seen, hypotheses have been made, and multiple diagnoses have been ruled out.
Her sleeping for nearly 20 hours a day has left me stranded at home for days. While I have managed to use much of the time at home productively, I have also been faced with the opposite. Silence. Silence as I wait for the phone to ring with ANY word from the doctors, and silence from the stilled sounds of laughter and playfulness that filled our home for much of any normal day. I have been forced to sit and listen to that silence and feel the accompanying feelings of powerlessness. Powerlessness over my daughter’s health, over the speed of the doctor’s responses, over her potential falling behind at school, and even the loss of work hours for me.
Of course, my story is not unique. Thousands of parents are thrust into caregiving rolls for months and even years at a time for those they love the most.. Their lives are upended with doctor visits, therapies of all types, and the accompanying medical bills.
For many of us in the “Sandwich Generation” caregiving may be a role to which we are called, short or long-term for both our children and our aging parents. Recently, I wrote and released The Invisible Conversations with Your Aging Parents. The book addresses many of the caregiving issues adult children go through as their parents age and the conversations which are or are not occurring, for whatever reason. And now…I have been given the opportunity to practice this role in my own life.
An old lesson returns, once again…
Much of my childhood was spent doing anything to avoid feeling powerless. Having grown up with a father who raged, many of the circumstances back then would have been too scary to have admitted the fact that indeed, I was powerless. Over the years, however, I have worked hard at diving into the feelings when I have felt powerless in situations. While it seemed like going into an abyss at first, after years of practice, the result has surprisingly provided great comfort.
There are things over which I do have power. In this case of caregiving during my daughter’s illness, that has meant making the calls, going to the appointments, advocating and asking questions and doing what I can to provide her with comfort. But then, it has meant taking my hands off any of the results. I have also found that keeping my life in balance is essential. Here are a few tips of which I have been reminded during this period:
1. Call on your support system. It is easy to isolate during a child’s or parent’s illness, whether it’s for a few days or a few months. Calling a few trusted friends to “vent” your frustrations, worries and concerns will lighten your load.
2. Utilize your spiritual resources; Call upon the strengths within your faith tradition. Studies have long shown that prayer and meditation affect brain waves and bring relaxation. Some find accessing the spiritual self through music and art is particularly helpful. For others, journaling or writing poetry is a way to find comfort and connection.
3. Exercise; The phrase, “Move a muscle, change a thought,” is profoundly true. Exercise releases stress and “feel good” endorphins which can bring a quick attitude adjustment and restore a sense of well-being. Plus, it’s important to keep your body strong so you can be there for those who need you.
4. Eat right; The chips, chocolate, or extra glass of wine may sound like a good short-term solution, but they affect your mood, your emotional and physical health and your stamina.
5. Get some respite. After several weeks at home, I rearranged my daughter’s visitation schedule with her father so I could go to work at my freelance job for a day. Who knew going to work would actually provide sanity! Taking a break every once in a while is essential.
In the end, I have confidence that my daughter will be ok. We will find out what is wrong with her, and we will do what is needed to help her. I am also confident that the prayers of hundreds of people who are praying for her and for me are helping… and I recognize that this time of caregiving has a purpose in my life and is, indeed, a gift.
note: The Invisible Conversations ™ with Your Aging Parents is now out on Amazon.com