You Can't Do It All

Staying Sane When Mom or Dad Needs More than You Can Give

I sat in the community room at the nursing home next to someone I love very much. His wife sat at my other side, a look of fear and confusion in her eyes. She'd been at the facility for rehab--a short term stay intended to get a person back on their feet after an illness or injury-but it wasn't looking like she was headed home anytime soon.  A move to the long-term care side of the building was imminent. 

"Don't leave me."

That's not something anyone is prepared to hear the first time; and when you can't stay, when a lack of sleep will affect your ability as a caregiver, when there just isn't any energy left to give no matter how much you want to help, you just have to walk out the door and head to your bed for a few hours rest.

Sure, you could have an orderly drag a cot into the room--and there may be nights where that's exactly what you do-but you can't do that every night.

What should you do when you've hit your limit, when you just have to walk away for a few hours?

1. Don't beat yourself up.  You're human. 

2. Take care of yourself. You aren't going to be any good to anyone if you aren't sleeping, if you aren't eating, if you're so run down you start to wonder if you're losing your mind.

3. Delegate. Don't try to do it all yourself. You can't. You're strong, you're capable of doing more than anyone else to help your parent, but you have to face the fact that you can't do it all. You're also not the person best able to care to all of your parent's needs. It's hard to hear, but there are professionals that can manage parts of your mom or dad's care better than you can. It's hard to hear, but it doesn't have to be you.

4. Do what you do best. But there are some things you can't, and shouldn't, delegate, to professionals. Even the most empathetic doctor, the kindest CPA, the most genuine attorney can't love your parent like you can. The bond you have is deeper than anything that'll form in the months (or even years) they're working with your mom or dad. Sure, they'll form tight bonds, and they may even have a lot of affection for your mom or dad, but you and your siblings are the only ones who can love him or her like a child. Don't skimp on being your parent's child to be his or her caregiver. 

5. Call someone. You could use a kind ear right now, and there's no shame in that. If you're angry, if you're scared, if you're sad. Talk to someone about it. Vent.

6. Take a deep breath. Seriously. Stop and take a deep breath-eyes closed. Now do the same thing a few times  day. You're doing everything you can, and your worry isn't going to help anyone, especially not yourself. At the risk of going new age on you, your breath is your connection to yourself, to your body. Don't take it for granted.