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LIES™ and Lessons For Caregivers: Can Selfish be Self-less?

July 13, 2010

This guest blog post is from my colleague and friend Kyle Ruffin, who like a growing number of people, unexpectedly became the primary caregiver for her mother.  Caregivers have their special set of LIES™ that create stress, feelings of isolation and of having to do it all.  You can learn, like she did, that giving yourself permission to trust others with your precious ward is far from selfish.

Kyle Ruffin

A recent issue of Yoga Journal magazine talks about cultivating calm from within.  One benefit to cultivating your internal calm is being able to keep life’s inevitable ups and downs from impacting you negatively.  This can be a wonderfully freeing and tremendously useful life skill.  Often we let fearful assumptions stop us in our tracks.  That’s one of those self-imposed LIES™ that thwarts achievement and, in my case, threatened my happiness and much needed restorative vacation.  Reminding myself to remain balanced amidst fluctuating circumstances kept me calm and allowed me to enjoy an overdue respite that was threatened with being cut short.

My mother recently suffered a stroke and now requires round-the-clock assistance.  I had made arrangements for a friend of hers to stay with her while my husband and I traveled for a week.  Halfway through the week, the temporary caregivers decided they were no longer willing to stay with Mom and they left abruptly.   I was 1,000 miles away in another country and suddenly forced to coordinate care for mom with other friends.  They generously volunteered themselves, but they were not appropriately trained to deal with someone who is a fall risk and cognitively compromised – even though she’s making wonderful progress.   Anyone with kids or a sick or aging parent knows leaving them with someone without experience or training is not an easy decision.  The “what if’s” can quickly take control of the situation.

I decided to practice what I’d just read – not assuming the worse, but rather looking at the situation as it “is” rather than how bad it “could get.”  All I knew at that moment was that Mom’s caregivers had left and that others were willing to take up where they left off.  I could have been frightened and sidelined by questions like, “Suppose she falls?,”  “How will she take her medicine?,” “What if she has to go to the bathroom they can’t get her there in time?,” “How will she eat since her friend who left said there was no food in the house?,”   Instead of fretting, I took it one phone call at a time.  I had left very detailed instructions and I let each volunteer know to call 9-1-1 if she fell.  I had to trust that Mom, her friends and the home health service that visited for a variety of therapies would be able to survive without me for four days.  And they did.  A few uncomfortable moments did arise, but mom’s posse dealt with them.   They are truly remarkable people.

Even more remarkable was my ability to push away feelings of guilt and selfishness, and take her friends at their word.  If you’re a caregiver, the feeling that you have to do EVERYTHING and that everyone expects you to do it all – even though they repeatedly offer to help – is crippling.  It’s also a certain path to anti-depressants.    In more cases than not, that expectation is one of those powerful LIES™ that keeps us trapped in a place we know we do not want to be.   NEWS FLASH!  Sometimes you have to be selfish to replenish your stores of selflessness.   To that end, I enjoyed my well-deserved vacation, and Mom and her house were in one piece when I got back.

Had I abbreviated my vacation, I would have been thrust prematurely back into 24-hour caregiving – which is exactly what I needed the break from.  By focusing each step of the way on what actually “was” and not what “could be” kept me calm enough to ensure a temporary care plan was put in place.  Consequently, that allowed me to experience the joy of visiting a beautiful place with my dear husband – replenishing that cherished relationship.

And – one last thing – learning to trust was a major step toward reclaiming my life and Mom’s future independence.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Molly Daly permalink
    July 13, 2010 4:07 pm

    Great piece, Kyle! I’m sending a link to a friend who needs to read – and heed – it.

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