The death we experienced in our family a few months ago began as an emergency. The ensuing tragedy stopped me cold. I’m on my way back now from that black pit, but getting past the shock and learning to accept the pain has taken time. And lots of work. Thank you for your prayers for our family.
Emergencies are pretty much a fact of life. They will come. Some will be big; some, small. All will be unexpected and all will require immediate action that takes us away from our everyday tasks.
Now I find myself wondering: If this tragedy had struck while I was taking care of Mom, how would I have handled it? Alzheimer’s doesn’t give anyone a break, even for emergencies. Caregivers can’t demand that life stop to let them grieve or be ill or even go to the dentist. There’s no time-out while we buy groceries or get a flat tire fixed.
What are caregivers to do?
The answer: we must take care of ourselves. And I don’t mean be careful not to get sick and be sure to keep good tires on the car. I mean, in two words, be prepared.
We’ve talked before in this blog about the wisdom of bringing in help to assist at-home caregivers. We’ve emphasized that caregivers need breaks. We’ve noted that a loved one with Alzheimer’s will often be more cooperative with a stranger than with someone more familiar. We’ve made a point for safety—professionals have expertise and experience that make certain caregiving tasks, bathing for example, easier and safer. Any one of those reasons may justify bringing in a helper, professional or not.
But a still more compelling argument can be made for having backup: Emergencies will arise. Not if, but when they do, they can’t be ignored. Caregivers get ill; their cars break down; other family or friends suddenly need their support. Maybe there’s a funeral they must attend, a time of grieving they cannot avoid.
During a particularly difficult time in my mother’s illness, I faced the kind of emergency I had feared but not prepared for. Dad was struck with a life-threatening heart ailment. Obviously, I couldn’t be with him at the hospital and at home with Mom at the same time. By the skin of my teeth, I was able to get someone to stay with Mom during the day. At her bedtime, I left the hospital to be at home with her until morning. In spite of my lack of planning, we managed. But the time would have been easier for Mom if she were already accustomed to staying with someone else. And Dad and I could have avoided the additional stress of worrying about her.
“We’ll have no outside help.” Dad voiced that order many times in my early caregiving days. I should never have agreed to it. As the months passed and I saw the folly of his words, I should have challenged them. I should have gathered a lineup of helpers—or at least one!—who could step in if I was called away. Just the security of having people I could count on to give me and Dad a break would have made all three of us safer and healthier. But I didn’t speak up. And I regretted it.
So I urge you, if you’re an at-home caregiver, ask for what you need. Be prepared. Have someone who can take your place—when you need a break, when you need help with a particular task, or in an emergency. That’s taking care of yourself. And taking care of yourself is taking care of your loved one.
And if you know someone who is a caregiver, remember that life doesn’t stop for Alzheimer’s. Taking over care duties for a few hours is great, but if you’re not comfortable with that, rest assured there are other ways to assist. Pick up a grocery list and do the shopping now and then. If the need arises, take the caregiver’s car to be repaired or be the stand-in to meet service or delivery people. Maybe volunteer to provide a meal occasionally.
Though we all need help sometimes, we know there are seasons and events in life when some of us need more and others have more to give. Isn’t it wonderful how that works out? Let’s get together. No matter which side of the situation we’re on, let’s be prepared.
Day after day men came to help David, until he had a great army, like the army of God (1Chron 12:22 NIV).
Father, make us both humble and bold as we care for our loved ones. Let us not be proud, thinking we can do it all alone. Neither let us be fearful or ashamed of asking for the help we need. Thank You, Lord, for your faithful guidance.