Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we have as caregivers is trying to live –now – not later when things are different. As I write this, I am waiting for news, the kind that could be life altering. I was hoping to receive it last month, and then last week at the latest. Now I’m told I need to wait another week.
I am data-driven, an analytical person. I deal in facts and, based on facts, I make plans. And while I fully expect and accept that plans rarely unfold the way they are written, I like the structure of creating a plan, and then adjusting it as necessary. Having a plan, and updating it as I go, gives me a sense of control — even if it’s a false sense.
But as caregivers, we lose control – and we definitely lose track of the plans we’ve made. We can’t stop aging or death. We often feel helpless – unable to heal or halt the progression of an illness. We find our lives veer away from the plans we’ve made. I was supposed to have an impressive career and launch a business, for example. Then caregiving happened. And then, it happened again.
As much as I like to know what I am dealing with and how I will face it, I also know that waiting wastes time – precious time. Over the course of three years, I was present at three deaths. Nothing reminds you that time is finite like seeing another life end. And so, lucky for me, I have learned to live in uncertainty. Good thing I didn’t wait to get my life going, because caregiving just happened again.
A few years ago I might have waited for the news without exhaling – marked time while marching in place. But not this time. Now I know that the sooner caregivers, and anyone really, can accept where they are and what is happening in their life, the sooner they can learn to live in their reality. Tom Petty sang that the waiting is the hardest part. Good song, but I disagree. Not waiting is harder – but worth it.
Now, I know this story would be more motivational (and exciting) if I told you that after those three deaths, I really tore it up and grabbed life by the horns. That maybe I took up skydiving, or sold my home and traveled the U.S. in an Airstream, or moved to a country you never heard of and supported an entire nation with a beaded bracelet business. But no; I merely continue to live my comfortable, suburban life. And that’s okay. It’s fine. Because even thought my life isn’t eat-pray-lovey, I am living it. And that is more than many people do.
The other night, in the middle of uncertainty and fear while I await the news, I told someone it had been a great day. They seemed shocked. “How can you say that?” this person asked me – the news will affect their life too. “Because it was,” I said. “Everything that happened today was good.” And why wouldn’t I be happy about that? I don’t know if tomorrow will be a good day. I don’t know if I will get good news or bad next week, and even if I do, that shouldn’t stop me from having good days or good moments right now, right?
Your life is today. It’s what you opened your eyes to this morning. It’s not going to start when your shift ends or you retire, or when you lose 10 pounds, or meet someone special, or get the news, or when your caregiving experience ends. Live it now.
And here’s the good news: you don’t need to witness three deaths to learn how to live in the moment. Here are 4 less traumatic techniques to help you embrace life.
Practice gratitude. It’s easier to appreciate and enjoy life when you are grateful. Why not start or end every day by listing all that you are grateful for? Some people like to keep a gratitude journal and write a list every day; I prefer to keep things simpler. I merely recite as many things as I can think of that I am grateful for every morning as I am getting ready for the day – maybe in the shower, or while drinking my coffee, or brushing my teeth.
Ask, “What’s good?” Over in the Working Daughter Facebook group, every Thursday I ask the group to tell me what’s good. Because something always is. Asking what’s good can feel like a super-abbreviated gratitude practice, but it’s more than that. It’s the ability to see something positive in absolutely every situation – like enjoying a great song on the radio when stuck in traffic, or avoiding extra calories when your takeout order is wrong. Something is always good. You’re breathing aren’t you?
Surrender. Let go of how life was supposed to be – it’s not that way in case you haven’t noticed. The sooner you can accept how things are, the sooner you can move forward. There’s a reason my favorite caregiving phrase is “the only way through is through.” We can’t stop. We can’t go around. We can’t dig a tunnel. We can only move through life.
Honor the person you care for. Think about the person you care for – are they on a walker, housebound, have dementia? What is it that they can no longer do but you can? Do that – without guilt, without abandon. You have the ability to dance, grocery shop, remain independent, go for a walk – don’t squander it. What an insult that would be to those who cannot do.
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