Tuesday, December 27, 2011

“Running on Empty”

         My son voices his worry that David and I will sap our energy too much in caring for my mother. He knows about the middle of the night aid to take Mom to and from the bathroom, realizes she wakes up at the crack of dawn; he understands her need of someone being constantly within calling distance. When he expresses his concern, I remind him we spend a huge portion of each evening enjoying our own interests. We spend time together watching something mindless on television while munching popcorn.
         But I do worry about those days when I’m snapping at everyone and everything because that’s an indication that I’m feeling neglected or overwhelmed. When my siblings come to give us a break, we try to sleep late and head out of the house to our favorite places like browsing through the shops in Gruene, Texas. If my brother or sister arrives early on a Friday, we sometimes escape to the cabin in the hill country. That perfect retreat always offers the respite we need. If we don’t get a long break, we find ourselves overtired.
         I love the advice everyone gives about David and I needing to take care of ourselves and get adequate breaks. What people don’t realize is that unless someone volunteers to come over to sit for an evening, we can’t take off for a stroll through a mall or an evening movie. We count ourselves fortunate that our son lives in the neighborhood. He spends an incredible amount of time “hanging” with Grammy. If I have a doctor’s appointment, I know he’ll come over. I don’t like to overuse my son, though. Is this a normal response? I don’t know. I fear the months in the future when Mom’s needs will increase, when my need for breaks won’t fall into the “occasional” category. I think on some level, I don’t want to misuse my son’s offers for help now because I may need him more in the future.
         As we enter the second year of caregiving, we’ve reached our stride. This morning, I ran Mom’s bath while David started his pre-work routine. He stepped in to help Mom into the tub. While I stayed with her as she soaked in her bubbles and listened to her new Susan Doyle cd, David packed his lunch. Then he returned to help lever Mom out of the tub, dashing from the room to get dressed while I toweled Mom dry, applied lotion to her skin, and dressed her. Entering the family room, we found David already munching on his morning cereal.
         Our lives have a steady routine that flows most days in surprising harmony. Those days where I can’t do anything right for Mom sprinkle throughout the month. Those moments when she drives me crazy because she doesn’t want anything I’ve cooked happen infrequently. Those nights where we get up two or three times with her occur no more than once or twice a week. So, for now we’re holding our own.
         And when I find that we’re “running on empty” I think we’ll fall into music, or books, or hobbies to recharge ourselves.     

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman          

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