“The simple act of caring is heroic.”
-Actor Edward Albert
The blaring of the alarm cut through what those days could be called a "deep sleep." My mind raced through a mental checklist, which made my heart race and my palms sweat. I wanted to stay in bed, pull the covers over my tear-stained face, and simply melt away into the mattress, escaping from all that lay ahead. I was exhausted even before my feet hit the floor.
That phase of my life was deeply connected to the end of someone else’s, and a new, imposed identification had been added to my human resume: “caregiver.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 58% of caregivers in the United States are women. I, along with many other women, now carried the burden of caring for a variety of individuals who relied on me to be their informal care manager, advocate, decision-maker, counselor, typist, or taxi driver.
Sitting in an oncologist’s office 7 years ago with my normally vivacious husband, we heard the news that would completely alter our existence. For a full year, we endured doctors’ appointments, blood tests, a bone marrow transplant, late-night trips to the emergency room, and lengthy hospitalizations. During that time, I tried to practice self-care. I let friends set up a meal train so I could have something to eat at the end of the day. I kept in touch with a therapist for my mental health. Yet, while both proved helpful, I still needed to take care of the multitudes of other things my husband and I, together, would take care of daily. Normal tasks such as running our business, paying bills, and home and automobile maintenance now felt like a herculean task. I was trying to do it all while feeling that I was failing everyone and everything. At the end of that year, I was heartbroken and depleted mentally, emotionally, and physically.
I often think about what I would do differently. With hindsight and humbleness, may I offer the following:
- Be sure to eat consistently. Take healthy snacks to doctor's appointments. Sit down even for 10 minutes and eat a simple yet satisfying meal. Food is fuel.
- Drink water and drink more water. Stay hydrated to alleviate hunger and headaches.
- Take a walk, preferably outside, even if it is only for 15 minutes. The break and fresh air will do wonders for your stamina.
- Sleep as much as you can. Do not be afraid to nap. You need rest.
- Make sure you have the appropriate legal documents in place. An elder care and/or estate attorney will guide you through the process and can prove to be an invaluable resource. Women’s Fund of Rhode Island has introductory estate planning resources to start your estate planning journey as well.
- Connect with others, whether that be with family or friends, mental health specialists, or a support group. Releasing your emotions and concerns with those you trust will help you to cope.
- If a family member is willing to support in the caregiving process, allow them. Yet, if they are unable to based on their own journey, forgive them, accept their inabilities, and move forward.
- Leave the guilt and the judgments at the door. Those feelings of inadequacy and disappointment serve no use other than to deplete energy and impact self-esteem.
- Finally, when the time is appropriate, voice support for bolstering family caregiving and leave legislation. The RI Paid Leave Coalition, of which Women’s Fund of Rhode Island is a part, is supporting the expansion of Temporary Caregiver Insurance benefits this legislative session. If you would like to advocate for expanding paid family leave with WFRI, contact Angela McCalla at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about joining our Policy and Advocacy Committee.
Taking care of another is a heroic act of love and compassion. I do not regret a moment of doing so for my husband. I do regret not taking better care of myself, as it made my healing from his loss that much more difficult. You cannot serve from an empty cup. Insist on those moments to rest and replenish. If you are currently a caregiver, please remember that you are doing the best you can and that will always be enough.
About the author:
Karen A. Gregory is a writer of all things inspiring and empowering. Throughout her many years, she
has intentionally, and a few times quite unintentionally, invented or reinvented herself more times than
she can count evolving into a photography stylist, fashion designer, mentor, and a one-time cookie
maker. Currently, she is a Senior Paralegal at RIHousing. In her spare time, she is producing a collection
of short stories about the healing power of humor after the loss of a loved one and decorating her bay-
front bungalow in East Greenwich, where she lives with her partner, Siamese cat, and a plethora of wild