Some of the most precious years of my marriage happened after my husband, Don, had a stroke that left him paralyzed from the neck down.
We both gained a deep appreciation for how committed we were to each other and how much love was present even in this extreme circumstance. Our roles had shifted. Instead of Don leading us on journeys around the world, I became the designer of closer-to-home surprises to delight him. It was a shift that let us see each other’s strengths in a new light.
Neither of us embraced the situation with acceptance at first. If we could have turned back time and eliminated his stroke, we both would have done so with alacrity. But time and illness don’t work that way, and we both came to accept the reality that had become our lives. And we also eventually accepted its gifts with gratitude.
I mention this because we sometimes become blinded by the reality we desire instead of the reality that exists. In doing so, we might not see the blessings that are present all around us. Even if an illness only allows you small moments of comfort, such as sitting with your loved one and sharing the warmth of the sun on your faces, what a gift that can be. Here are some ideas to help you relish the special times in your current caregiving life.
1) Practice Gratitude
Take time each day to appreciate cherished moments either with your loved one or other people in your life. Consciously practicing gratitude can reduce common caregiving ailments, such as depression, chronic pain, and anxiety, while also improving mood, sleep, and immunity. The moments can be small. For example, you might be thankful for watching your loved one enjoy a restful slumber or perhaps you reached out to a supportive friend and enjoyed a few minutes of conversation. It’s okay to be thankful for a chipper bird that you watched flit outside your window or perhaps your loved one smiled at you and your heart warmed. If you develop a routine of waking each morning and feeling gratitude for the precious experiences of the previous day, you may find that joy begins to seep more and more into your caregiving journey.
2) Consider a Journal
Sleeplessness can be a common problem for caregivers, but writing in a journal before bed can help by allowing you to note things that you want to remember, release some of the stresses of the day, and recount the things that you enjoyed. Perhaps you pushed your loved one’s wheelchair to the park and watched some children play. Or maybe a fun episode of a sitcom entertained you both. Or maybe you realized that a feeding or bathroom task has become more automatic and, thus, easier. If you can’t think of anything on certain days, just be thankful that you have someplace to live with clean water and healthy food. By taking some time to remember what has gone well, you’re helping yourself remember that there were things that went well. As humans, we tend to recall the negative more easily than the positive, but by purposefully focusing on the positive, we can change that dynamic and create a more pleasant and fulfilling life.
3) Reassess Your Perspective
New parents can be overwhelmed by the demands of a baby—the sleeplessness, the crying, the incessant need—but as a child grows and eventually becomes an independent teen, parents often miss the tender warmth and bonding of those early years. The same thing can happen at the end of life. The demands of your loved one may be overwhelming, but one day, those days of need and constant connection will end. Many of us will then wish that our caregiving days could have gone on longer so that we could say more, ask more, or simply have more time to be in each other’s presence. So, take a moment to consider how you’re feeling as a caregiver. Are you so worn that you can’t appreciate the uniqueness of this moment in your life? If so, reach out for help so that you can get a break and return with renewed spirit, and search out ways to incorporate respite on an ongoing basis. Also, imagine how you might feel if today was your last day with your loved one. Is there anything that you would wish you would have said or done? If so, take the time to do it. If you realize you would simply want to see their face one more time, take the time to really look and love while you still can.
Thank you for reading, please share with a friend, and be well. —KK
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Photo 85630165 | Appreciate Now © Nikki Zalewski | Dreamstime.com