Barbara Garwood: A Caregiver’s Life
The Emotional Balance Sheet
It shouldn’t be a surprise because it happens every year, but somehow I find myself disbelieving that it is December. Weren’t we just beginning 2016, making plans for the year, plans that would be greatly altered by chance, fate, and will? We made those plans just the same, knowing they would change because planning gives us a sense of control over our lives.
As a caregiver, you may feel that the control you have is limited at best. With as much resilience as you can muster, you face what each day brings as best you can. The holidays can be an emotional land mine, filled with memories of Christmases past and sadness in the knowledge that your holiday season will likely not live up to your expectations. Or maybe this is your first Christmas without your loved one, leaving you with a hole in your heart and the task of adjusting to a new normal.
Between doctors’ appointments, keeping up with medications, making sure your loved one has the care they need both night and day, finding a way to make ends meet, and (maybe) finding some time for yourself, it is especially hard to make your emotional balance sheet “balance.” Most likely, you feel that you are withdrawing much more than you are putting back in. Being tired has a way of doing that to us, keeping us from seeing and feeling the positives that are also a part of being a caregiver. A flicker of recognition from your loved one with dementia, a grateful squeeze of the hand, a smile on your loved one’s face, or better yet, a smile that breaks into laughter – those are things you can deposit in your emotional bank.
Each season is precious, but the seasons go by almost too quickly to enjoy their individual beauty. When we look back at the year past, maybe that is the true essence of feeling blessed – seeing the time as a whole rather than the individual moments. Sometimes the individual moments are too hard to bear or too beautiful to look upon for long. But taken as a whole, in their entirety, there is a balance to the seasons and to the year, and that brings balance to our lives. To see someone you love suffering from a chronic illness is heartbreaking, but to help them find joy in their day brings such a beautiful reward. To struggle with caregiving is equally difficult, but to find meaning in the midst of caregiving reminds us of why we do it.
As you look back at 2016, I hope the big picture of your emotional balance sheet is positive. And I hope you find ways to create that new normal for your holidays. Every Christmas my mother made a prune spice cake with mocha butter cream frosting. I miss that cake and I miss my mom. This year, I will make that cake and hope it tastes as good as hers.
Barbara Garwood is a geriatric care manager for Lutheran Services Carolinas.