Yet another fine article written by Monica Vest Wheeler, and originally posted on her blog. She has given me permission to reproduce it here on this blog. Monica's blog is titled "Turning empathy into action" and can be reached using this link: http://monicavestwheeler.blogspot.com/
She mostly writes about many different types of brain injuries and diseases, such as Alzheimer's, and occasionally writes one about stroke. She has published numerous books. According to her blog heading, Monica "...explores how we can lift ourselves and others by turning empathy into action … and the importance of the art of compassion in dealing with Alzheimer's, stroke, brain injuries and other life challenges." Monica is best known for her work on the Help ME Cope & Survive book series: http://www.monicavestwheeler.com/
Monica is also a very active volunteer for Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp and arguably our best camp photographer.
I hope you enjoy her writing and visit her blog. And be sure to browse her archived articles, too.
by Monica Vest Wheeler
Guilt is one of those power words that brings down governments and sends children into hiding.
No, I didn't commit a capital crime or break something. I just felt this overwhelming guilt for deciding to leave town for a couple of days to see family and friends and interview stroke survivors and caregivers. I felt guilty for being away from my dad-in-law for more than a day.
I've been with Pepaw almost every day for two months since we brought him here to live in Peoria so we could take care of him. I did take Monday and Wednesday off this week, and yet Thursday, as I picked him up from bowling and attended the Alzheimer's support group meeting with him, guilt began to sweep me for not being here for him this weekend.
Caregiver guilt: it's a killer.
I gave myself the same pep talk I give other caregivers when I speak to groups: you've got to take time for yourself or you're of no use to anyone.
The caregiver inside me shouted: what a crock of you-know-what! Shame on you for ABANDONING your father-in-law! Tsk tsk tsk!
I know I'm a Gemini, but these two voices were about to deafen me.
Here's the first debate:
• My husband will reassure me that NOBODY can take care of his dad as well as me. What a smart, smart man I married.
• But I have to let someone else fill in and learn the ropes of the everyday stuff. This is the weekend my son needs to have some one-on-one time with his grandpa so that Pepaw doesn't forget who he is.
Here's the second debate:
• I need to make sure he's out doing stuff HE wants to do every day.
• Hey, Pepaw is probably trying to find a polite way to say, "Hey, I need a vacation. I want to watch TV all day."
And there are a dozen more arguments that are trying to hold me captive.
I now realize the source of and solution to my guilt: love.
In two months, I've truly fallen in love with this man. I'm closer now to him than at any other time in the 36 years we've known each other, including the last 31 as his daughter-in-law. Sure, I'd given him hugs when we'd see each other after long separations and when it was time to say goodbye. Now I give him a hug every day I see him because he's become very special to me, more than just my dad-in-law.
I tell him every time I see him that I love him. And he tells me the same.
I care about his everyday life and want to be sure he eats properly and gets his medication. I've endured uncomfortable nights in a rocker-recliner so I could be close by during his first nights in new places, so that he wouldn't be confused or lost or unable to find his way to the bathroom at 3 a.m. I've helped him shower and made sure he had clean clothes. I've taken him to doctors' appointments and tried to ask all the right questions so he gets the best care. I've sat in bowling alleys and bought him cigarettes.
And just like every caring caregiver I've ever met, I do it because I love him. I want him to be happy, healthy, comfortable and pain-free. This is what we do for our loved ones. Hence, the name.
My guilt is now eased by the knowledge that I will come back after a few days away refreshed and more alert to meet his ongoing needs. That is how I will become a better caregiver by giving myself some care.
And by golly, I'm worth it! Pepaw tells me so!
Written by Monica Vest Wheeler
Monica Vest Wheeler www.alzhelpbook.com
Turning Empathy into Action
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Phone toll-free 1-877-267-4640
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P.O. Box 276
Peoria, IL 61650-0276