Have you ever needed a different day? A day you did something outside the box, not on the schedule? A day to unhinge your mind from the monotonous tasks that demand your attention? We all need it. A break. A pause. A reprieve.
Some people understand this concept more than others. Like the teacher that lays out a blanket for her kindergarten class to pile on while she reads another chapter of their favorite book. Or the mom who keeps her kids out of school for a day so they can enjoy a special museum exhibit, followed by frozen yogurt and a walk in the park. Or the boss who mixes up the workweek with team building activities like a scavenger hunt, work Jeopardy! or the human knot.
I tend not to think that way. But like everyone else, I need that break. Caregivers need that break.
When a mother tries to get her newborn on a schedule, she typically has a list of things she wants to accomplish while her baby naps. She sees that time as golden. But sometimes what she needs most isn’t to fold the laundry or write baby shower thank you notes. It’s to linger over a cup of her favorite coffee, catch up on the latest episode of her favorite show or take an uninterrupted nap.
When caregivers are given respite for their loved ones, even for a few short hours, the same tendency is there ~ to mop the bathroom floor, run a few errands or conquer the pile of dirty laundry. But more than clean floors and freshly laundered clothes, what she really needs is a few hours to do whatever makes her happy, whatever rejuvenates her.
After eight years of caring for my Father, I’ve finally clued in on this concept. (Call me a slow learner.) For the one day of the week that Dad spends at Grace Arbor singing songs and creating crafts, instead of trying to get my hours in at work, Mom and I are taking that time to spend together doing something fun. This didn’t just restore our sanity, it helped our relationship.
When a loved one has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the caregiver lives in a pressure cooker. The lid is locked, the air is sucked out and the tension rises while the contents cook. When two people take care of the same loved one, they’re both in that pressure cooker together. Tempers flare, temperatures rise and there is a constant need to let out steam. Unfortunately, the normal tendency is to take out your frustration on the team player on whom you count the most.
A couple of weeks ago when Mom and I went to lunch and then shopped, we didn’t talk about Dad’s declining health, the stages of his disease or what may be right around the corner. We talked about her wedding day and how Jackie Kennedy was forced to wear a wedding gown she didn’t like. We talked about what color towels would look best in her bathroom and whether the New Balance tennis shoes Mom just bought Dad were black or navy. After that excursion, when Dad was back from Grace Arbor, I didn’t feel the pressure I’d felt before. Mom’s words didn’t irritate me and I even noticed our laughter coming back.
There is something healing about time well spent. It isn’t just a good thing to do. It’s medicine. It makes you function better and keeps the colors around you crisp and vivid. That one different day made such an impact on us that we’re making it a regular part of our week.
Soldiers who face adversity and battle together form a bond that’s closer than kinship. The same is true of caregivers. I can walk up to another caregiver and not say a word. We can just look at each other and feel a common bond. We know because we’ve been there. We’re there now. Soldiers are required to take leave, to refresh, refocus and recuperate. The same is true of caregivers. We also need to take leave. To refresh, refocus and recuperate. After all, we’re in a battle.