I’ve had the privilege of touching Grace. Literally. I’m a massage therapist for hospice patients. Today I met with a patient and his wife was sharing a few moments in her life. She was sharing those kinds of things you raise your head to the heavens and you say, “Really God? Did I need THAT to happen? I’ve got all this other stuff going on as I care for my person and YOU GIVE ME THIS? REALLY?”
She stepped from the shower, was drying off minding her own business and literally the shower bar and curtain fell right off the wall. She couldn’t deal with it at the moment and let it sit. The following morning she knew she needed to deal with it and grabbed all the shampoo and conditioner bottles that had been strewn about. In her haste, the cap came off the conditioner bottle and dripped all over the floor between the bathroom and her bedroom, making another huge mess. (Cue hands in the air, looking at God and again, “WHY? REALLY?”) When I arrived, she shared and could laugh, but deep down she was really struggling.
Caregiving. It’s a thankless job that we do. Sometimes we get overtaken by emotions that we bury them so deep to our core that we don’t even realize they are down there. Odd things begin to happen and we are often so stunned that we don’t put two and two together to see that we are creating them. Our energy body (mental and emotional) can be so powerful. We think things happen at random and outside of ourselves and when we really pull back the layers and take a look, we can’t believe our eyes.
We hold in the emotions. We “handle” the tasks at hand. We control our environment as best we can, or so we think. All hell breaks loose.
Another patient's wife over the course of 6 week had the washing machine break, the microwave break, electrical storm took out the power to the house, fried all the outlets in most of the home, flooded the basement due to no sump pump and ruined the garage door opener. MInd you, every week I came back, some major event was happening.
Many people would say that is bad luck or just random. I disagree. We are powerful. We are energy in our bodies and that energy, when we don’t listen or honor where we are at, can get out of control.
Take my friend and colleague Susie (name changed for privacy purposes) who over a period of a few weeks during a particularly stressful time of caregiving for her mother-in-law (90 years old) and special needs brother-in-law (65 years old) who were living at her house, had her outdoor glass patio table explode, her tooth cracked and fell out, her vacuum blew up, her iced coffee in a plastic blender bottle hit the floor and the bottom blew off dispersing 20 ounces of coffee all over the kitchen floor, and her mother-in-laws 70 year old glass pedestal cake plate fell out of the back of her car and broke in a million pieces. These things were followed up by a few physical things such as a long fever and headache lasting three weeks and a bout with Bell's Palsy.
Stress, my friends. It can really do a real loop-de-loop on your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual bodies! Susie thought she was handling it. She thought she was in control of the situation at her home with two new people she had known for years moving in so she could take care of them. She didn’t recognize what a toll it was taking, not because she couldn’t handle it, she could and well. She didn’t allow herself the space to process the emotions of what caregiving meant. Giving of her space. Giving of her time. Giving of herself. Susie forgot that she could have some boundaries around the situation and give herself some latitude in the “new” transition to being a live in caregiver. She forgot that there were emotions that went along with all this “new.”
Susie’s physical body and her emotions were not in sync. Her body literally overheated (think glass blowing up, tooth exploding, vacuum exploding, cake plate shattering, fever, headache) with inner rage and anger and on the outside she appeared fine. And if you asked her, everything was fine. Good even. Everything was fine - except it wasn’t. Susie was sharing with our friend group what was going on and yet, she still didn’t connect the dots. One of us asked her, “Are you feeling angry at your loss of self? Are you feeling frustrated that your space isn’t your own at the moment? Are you upset that you can’t walk around your house and do what you want when you want without someone there?” She was stunned. She was silent. It had not dawned on her that her emotions were being held hostage by herself. The inner war had begun and she didn’t see it.
That moment of clarity changed her. It was the inner recognition that albeit generous and wonderful and loving to care for others, she forgot herself in the process.
As caregivers the number one thing to remember is that YOU MATTER. Yes, you are caring for someone who needs help, but you must care for yourself and as cliche as it is, you must put your oxygen mask on first. Sometimes that looks like taking time for yourself by locking yourself in the bathroom, or getting a relative to help out for a few hours or if no relatives are available, someone from church or a neighbor to help out for a short time. You need to recenter yourself so you can be the best you, for them.
Secondly, you can recognize that you can’t control any of what your person that you are caring for has going. You CAN control how you show up. That’s it. You are in charge of you. Nothing more. Your person is busy feeling their own loss and decline and you can’t control that. Only they can. So stop trying to. Get in your own lane. It will go better for both of you that way.
Lastly, be easy on yourself. You are doing amazing! It’s a big, huge bowl of mess and you are truly doing the best you can do. Honor that. Honor where you are and allow for some big breaths, some tears, some laughter. ALL OF IT. It’s ALL part of the process.