“It felt like love and intimacy went out the window after my husband was diagnosed,” she said. “Life became a flurry of appointments as we rushed from one doctor to another, test after test. It seemed life as we knew it was over. We were exhausted and stressed, and the world seemed to be coming down around us, and the worst part was that we felt more alone together than we ever had before.”
One of the greatest challenges in caregiving can be learning to take joy when you have the opportunity. You may find it in the small things. Taking the time to share a tender moment, even if it’s a nod, a hug, a knowing smile…or a shared giggle when life serves up a situation that can only be addressed with laughter. The overwhelming is soothed by the small moments that can bring a new sense of love and understanding.
How can you nurture joy when so much going on around you feels impossible? Sometimes it’s simply by paying attention. Your loved one might not be the same person you once knew and circumstances may seem to have left their mark on the person you once were. But, often if you just step back from the everyday pressures, emotional and physical challenges that seem to have altered your life forever, you can see ways to enjoy life. You can find ways to adapt to experience things you loved to do, and do them again with some adjustments.
One couple I knew loved to dance. His sense of balance was weakened by Parkinson’s Disease. But instead of grieving what they could no longer do, they found a way to do what they loved, with a few adjustments. Instead of dancing to a complete song, they would begin a dance in the middle, wait for the next song and dance half of that, then take a break to rest. It felt like they were dancing to two songs. It wasn’t quite the same, but it still gave them joy. They learned to make it work for them, to appreciate what they had, even if it was different.
Another couple who had loved to dance, decided to take dancing lessons together. His patience quickly wore thin. He was frustrated with his wife’s inability to move gracefully, she was embarassed and became even more awkward. His expectations prevented him from experiencing the joy that could have brought them close.
When he saw how the instructor gently guided her through the steps and she became more confident, he saw the difference it made in how his wife moved. Gentle encouragement, letting go of criticism, disappointment and expectations, enabled him and his spouse to focus on what they could do together. It wasn’t the same as before. What mattered was that they could hold each other again, move to the music, and share the tender joy of caring for each other.
The willingness to compromise, let go of expectations and enjoy the moment is often one of the greatest gifts of caregiving and care receiving. It doesn’t have to happen on a dance floor. It can happen anywhere. It can be a wink across the breakfast table. A gentle touch. It may last only a moment, but that moment can be the very thing you cherish on a challenging day.
Finding joy also comes in treating yourself to something you love, even if your care partner isn’t involved. In fact, if you don’t take time to nourish yourself, it’s unlikely you will be able to provide care without feeling frustration and resentment.
Joy, or at least relief, may come with the realization that you can find a way to have time to yourself, without feeling guilty. It may come from giving yourself permission to get help or share some of the caregiving responsibilities with a family member, neighbor, or a paid caregiver. Just giving yourself the gift of letting go of the guilt, stress and exhaustion of caring for another can allow you the freedom to nourish your own health and well being.
If you're not in the Sarasota area, look for places in your community to find support. In the Sarasota area you'll find support and education on the caregiving journey at Caregiver Resource Center at Senior Friendship Centers. To learn more, call 94.1. 556. 3268.
About Paula Falk
Paula Falk is the Director of the Caregiver Resource Center (CRC) and Adult Day Service Program at The Living Room at Friendship Centers’ Sarasota campus. The Caregiver Resource Center is a community collaboration bringing together agencies and businesses offering services and products to help caregivers through one of life’s more challenging times. For more information, call 941.556.3270 or email email@example.com.
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