Being a caregiver for an elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia or any serious illness can be very stressful. Many of us are the primary person responsible for decisions for our family members. Even when the family member is in the hospital, a nursing home or an assisted living facility, we feel total responsibility for everything that happens to them. On top of all the stress of just doing the things we do, there is the added stress of the guilt for not doing more or other things that don’t fit into each day.
When mom was in the hospital, I was there with her every day and then I spent hours with dad before and after I went to the hospital. Similarly when dad was in the hospital, I spent most of the day with him – or running errands to get things for him or making phone calls about his care.
Each time, the stress really pressed down hard on me. I found one thing that helped me to reduce the stress was to mentally go to the beach. That is, at the end of each day I would try to take my mind off the situation at the hospital and focus on things that relax me.
With mom, I had flown south to be with her, so the weather was warm enough for me to take long walks after I had dinner with dad. Even if I only had 30 or 60 minutes before dark, I would walk down by the bay and watch the birds in the water, etc. I tried to refocus my mind on the moment in the sun and not think about the decisions that had to be made all day long. Of course, in the evening when I got back to my room I would be thinking again about all that I had to do to care for mom and dad.
Similarly when dad was hospitalized I tried to get a chance to walk. Often it was dark by the time I got home, so I would just read a library book to refocus my mind for awhile. Once dad was safely in the nursing home I was able to take a walk during the day after I had visited him. I just walked in my own neighborhood but tried to walk away some of the stress.
After almost 2 years of caring for my parents though, I knew I needed time away. This time I literally went to the beach. Here I could walk along the shoreline and watch the birds running along as the waves broke on the shore. Sometimes I stand by the window and just watch the ocean as the rhythm of the waves soothes me.
Each day I could walk on the beach and let myself relax to the sounds of the ocean. My mind is free to relive memories of happy times with mom and dad. Mom used to find seashells along the beach and now I do the same. I think of her each time I find a perfect shell. Dad used to like to use his metal detector to find treasures on the beach. Now I watch other treasure hunters with their metal detectors.
After a few weeks I could feel the tension had lifted and I was more able to relax and enjoy my time away. I will be home soon and have to pick up the tasks I have set aside. I hope to retain the calmer feelings for awhile and let others pick up some of the tasks I have been doing. Several companions have filled in for me while I was away. Now I hope to retain one of them several days a week so I can cut back on the daily visits. I will still visit dad about 4 days a week but on the other days I will focus on other priorities such as my own medical appointments, tasks that have been deferred while I was away and also some activities that I enjoy but often didn’t get to when dad was sick.
I’m afraid I have already started to create those chore lists in my head – from getting the groceries to having the car inspected and more. But if I am able to avoid going to visit dad 5 to 7 days per week, I should have more time for other things. I know my sister and brother will not be much help as they haven’t in the past, but I will work at not trying to do everything myself. I know dad will be glad to have me at home again and I have missed our visits as well. I will miss the beach and the sounds of the waves on the shore. Maybe when I find a quiet moment, I will mentally take a 5 or 10 minute trip back to the beach.