This Sunday is Mother's Day - Happy day to all our Mom's - raising a Boomer wasn't easy...!
To help those of you who are currently caring for an elder loved-one, and those who most likely will someday, I've compiled the 7 most common emotional difficulties we experience, and what to do about them:
...Guilt stems from doing or saying what you believe is the wrong thing, not doing what you perceive to be enough, or otherwise not behaving in the “right” way, whether or not your perceptions are accurate. A few examples: I must avoid putting Mom in a nursing home. I ought to visit every day. I shouldn’t lose my temper with someone who has dementia.
What to do: Rework your standards from ideal to real. When guilt nags, ask yourself what’s triggering it: A rigid “ought”? An unrealistic belief about your abilities? Above all, recognize that some guilt is to be expected: Because your intentions are good, but your time, resources and skills are limited, you’re just plain going to feel guilty sometimes.
Caregivers often feel put-upon and upset because of imagined slights by others, including siblings and adult children who don’t do enough to help, but it's especially felt toward the person being cared for, when the caregiver’s life feels hijacked by responsibility and out of his or her own control.
What to do: Simply talking to a trusted confidante can bring some release. Try venting in a journal. Know that resentment is a very natural and common response to long-term care-giving, especially if your work life, marriage, health or outside activities are compromised as a result. Know, too, that you can feel this complicated emotion yet still be a good person and a good caregiver.
You can get mad for reasons both direct (a critical loved one, an unfair criticism, one too many mishaps in a day) and indirect (lack of sleep, frustration over lack of control, pent-up disappointment).
What to do: Rather than trying to avoid anger, learn to express it in healthy ways. Simple deep-breathing exercises can channel mounting anger into a calmer state, for example. Talk yourself down with soothing chants: It’s OK. Let it go. Ask yourself if there’s a constructive solution to situations that make you angry: "Is a compromise possible? Would being more assertive (which is different from anger) help me feel a sense of control?" Then there's the use of humor... Laughing at absurdities and idiotic behavior can provide a healthier biological release than snapping.
...from all the "what-if's" to how you're going to get everything done, worry is to be expected, but is also self-perpetuating, usually snow-balling out of proportion
What to do: If you notice worrying thoughts interfering with getting through the day or sleeping at night, force a break to the cycle. Try setting a timer and resolving to focus on something else when the five minutes is up. Then flip negative thoughts to their productive side: "What can I do to resolve the problem? Who can I call?" And don’t be shy about seeking out a trained counselor to help you express and redirect obsessive ruminations more constructively.
Friends may back away out of uncertainty or a belief they aren’t wanted. Intense time demands lead you to drop out of outside activities. If you’re dealing with dementia, the loss of your loved one’s former level of companionship is another keenly felt social loss adding to isolation.
What to do: Expand your social circles, real and virtual. Arrange respite help, so you can add at least one outside activity, such as one you’ve dropped. Take the initiative to reach out to old friends and invite them over if you can’t get out easily. Consider joining a support group related to care-giving or your loved one’s illness. In online support groups, you can find kinship with those who know just what you’re going through.
Although most people link grief with death, anticipatory grief is a similar emotion felt by caregivers who are coping with a loved one’s long-term chronic illness, especially when there are clear losses of ability (as in dementia) or when the diagnosis is almost certainly terminal.
What to do: Know that your feelings are normal and as painful as “real” (postmortem) grief. Allow yourself to feel sadness and express it to your loved one as well as to supportive others; pasting on a happy face belies the truth and can be frustrating to the person who knows he or she is ill or dying. Make time for yourself so that you’re living a life outside of care-giving that will support you both now and later.
When you’re doing so much, it’s only natural to bristle at suggestions that there might be different or better approaches.
What to do: Try not to take everything you hear personally. Instead of immediately getting annoyed or discarding others’ input, vow to pause long enough to consider it. Remember the big picture. Is there merit in a new idea? What you’re hearing as a criticism of you might be a well-intentioned attempt to help your loved one. You may decide things are fine as is, and that’s great. But if you start from a point of calm and confidence, the focus becomes (as you intend) your loved one, not you.
- for those of you not yet in care-giving mode, but noticing that Mom or Dad need something more meaningful in their lives, here's
The Healing Power of Pets for Elders...
- and for those who've already lost a parent, here's
How to Celebrate Mother's Day If Your Parent Has Passed
You have been officially alerted....