Advice to caregivers

Your life is not your own when someone that you love is sick. When you are the caregiver you have to change everything you do. It is kind of like living under siege.

You have to make sure that your car never goes below at least a quarter tank of gas. In fact having half a gas or more at all times is really useful. You have to make sure that you have an overnight bag packed in your car or at least in your house at all times. You’ll need a two or three day supply of clothes. Actually, having it packed in your car is better because you might get the call from a nurse while you were at work, and you don’t have time to go home and get your supplies. You have to make sure that you have a three day supply of medicine with you at all times too.

You can’t leave any of this to chance or to the last minute. Taking care of someone who is terminally ill is a lot like living in a war zone. You have to do what you can when you can. There is no guarantee of any other chance to relax a refresh yourself. You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of them.

You can’t do without food. Eating snacks and drinking sodas doesn’t count. Nothing from a vending machine is food. You have to make a point of eating real food, even if you don’t feel like eating. In fact, you won’t feel like it, but that doesn’t mean you can do without it. Cars have to have gasoline in them to go. Bodies need food. Skip all sugars and caffeine – they will make you crash.

You’ll need to make a point of getting as much sleep as possible. This doesn’t mean oversleeping. But take the time to sleep when you can. Sleep is restorative.

Get exercise – go walk up and down the halls. Stretch.

Take a notebook and write. Writing helps process feelings and gets them out. Writing can help you understand what you are thinking.

All of your own personal chores have to be dealt with immediately. Don’t leave the mowing for another day. Don’t leave doing laundry for another day. You don’t have another day. That day is when you get called to go have to take care of somebody else’s problem.

You have to keep your own head above water before you can rescue someone else. If you’re not very good at swimming and you try and rescue someone else you will both drown.

You have to be able to shift gears. Sometimes the problem is shifting out of this emergency mode once you return to normal. Nothing is ever the same after you’ve taken care of someone who is dying. It’s like you had to grow an extra arm. So you don’t really know what to do with it once everything is back to normal. And of course it never is normal once they die. You are without someone you cared for.

Being a caregiver to a parent when the relationship was bad is extra hard. They have not taught you how to take control. They have not taught you how to be an adult. They have taught you your whole life that your opinion doesn’t matter. They have taught you your whole life that whatever you think is not okay. So now you don’t have the legs to stand on to take care of them. You can’t ask them what to do because they have reverted into being like a child. Now you have to be the adult, and you’ve not had any practice at it.

Death is the other side of birth

Our culture is so squeamish about death. Death is just the other side of birth. But we hide that too. We do both with strangers, in hospitals. We used to do them in our homes, with our friends and family. Both used to be a normal part of life. Now they both have been taken away from us. Or rather, we’ve given them away.

Just like people are starting to get the idea that a home birth can be a safe and fulfilling experience, so too can death. These aren’t medical procedures. There isn’t anything wrong. They don’t need doctors or nurses. They need trained helpers, midwives.

Fear comes from ignorance. Learn everything you can and it won’t be scary. Don’t know how to find the information you need? Go to the library. That is what the librarians are for. Google “Signs of death” and you’ll find helpful stuff too.

There are signs of approaching death, just like with an approaching birth. They are only scary if you don’t know them.

Fear of death just makes it worse. It isn’t a failure. It is natural, and it happens to everybody and everything. It is a transition.

It is leaving this body. The body is just a vehicle for the soul.

Nurses don’t get this. Doctor’s don’t get this. They are worried about giving an overdose of pain medicine to a terminally ill patient.

Why do we show more mercy to a dog than a person? Why does the person have to suffer to the bitter end?

Broken heart

When patrons hear that Jeff died of a heart attack just 7 weeks after his wife died, they often comment that “He died of a broken heart.”

No, he died because he didn’t take care of himself. He died because he spent his time taking care of everybody else and not himself.

He ate meat-laden breakfast sandwiches every morning. He got fast food for lunch. Sometimes he didn’t eat supper at all. He ate cookies and drank tea all day long. Everything had sugar or caffeine or both, and lots of it.

He knew his blood pressure was high, but he didn’t do anything about it. He had unusual pains and didn’t feel well, but didn’t go to the doctor.

I suspect he thought that if he took time off to go to the doctor, then he would be taking time away from us, his coworkers. He didn’t want to inconvenience us and make us even more short-handed.

You can’t make us more short-handed than being dead.

He had OCD. Constantly trying to fix things, to control things. The one thing he could control, his health, he didn’t.

Maybe if he had taken the time to take care of what he could take care of, he’d still be here.

He had a lot of stress, what with having two kids to deal with – children that weren’t even his legally. His wife had two children from a previous marriage, and they’d never gotten around to having him adopt them. They were worried about dealing with the kids’ deadbeat dad.

He drove an hour one way every day to go to work. His wife liked where they lived, but he couldn’t find work there. He put his needs aside. That was a long drive, and a lot of stress.

It was always about other people. He just liked to make people happy, he said. His dad was the same way, and he died young too.

What would make us happy would be for him to still be here, and well, and balanced, and happy.