I am on vacation.
For a care partner, vacation is both the most difficult and the most necessary of times.
"I get necessary, but why difficult?"
Because we are care partners. We are deeply immersed in the task at hand. We care beyond measure, and the task is huge and daunting. In spite of this, and the toll it takes on our bodies, minds and emotions, many care partners believe it's impossible to take even the briefest of vacations. "He won't let anyone care for him but me." "There are so many details. How could someone else possibly take over?" "I would worry the whole time. It's not worth it."
Here's the bottom line. If you don't take a break on occasion, you won't be able to stay the course. Or put another way, if you don't take a break, you will break.
Georgina had been Paul's sole care partner until the day he moved into care. In spite of the fact that they were close in age, as he was her husband, she'd cared for him with his advancing dementia with only minimal bathing help. Her children visited, but she felt it was her responsibility to care for their dad and she didn't invite a lot of help. When he moved into care, it was difficult for her to let go and let the care partners look after him, even though she loved them and thought they did an excellent job. An elder herself, she had multiple physical issues but continued to shoulder a burden that was no longer hers.
In the spring, she spoke of a summer family reunion. She wanted to go but didn't know how she could leave Paul. Each time the topic came up, I encouraged her to go. She needed to get away. Finally, she made the decision and left for four days out of town. Paul had settled nicely into our neighbourhood and was relaxed and happy. After a bowl of ice cream one afternoon, he stood up, turned and fell. His hip broke, and a week later, he died.
A sad story, to be sure. I wish it hadn't occurred while Georgina was on vacation. But the fact is, unless she had been standing beside him, she couldn't have prevented the fall. I was a few feet away, as was another care partner and a nutrition partner. We all came running, but none of us could prevent it. Life and death happen whether you are there or not. You need to prepare the best you can and leave.
Letting go of the reins requires organization, research, and ultimately, trust.
If your elder lives in care, this is easy. All the supports are already in place. Make sure those who are caring for them have contact information for you, and a person in town who can come quickly if a familiar face is needed in a crisis. Have you indicated if you would like them sent to the hospital in a crisis? Would you like a family friend to go with them or someone hired?
If you care for them at home, look at the supports you already have. Do you have someone coming in to shower and dress? Can you increase their hours or hire someone else through their organization? Are there friends who have said they are willing to help? Ask family to help. They may be able to at least visit for an hour, and could possibly do a lot more. If keeping them at home isn't possible, look at respite care. Many places who provide care also have some beds available for respite. Visit a few until you are comfortable. Check your insurance, as there may be provision for at least part of the cost.
Linked with the organization, research helps you find the best support possible while you are away. Because of who you are, they may never be good enough and you may never get over the feeling of guilt. Realize this about yourself and do it anyway. Look up what kind of supports are needed, visit them and decide what is the best option for you. If you start with a weekend retreat, you can try them out and perfect your care options for a longer trip. Talk to others who are on the same journey and get referrals. Each idea brings you a step closer to your much-needed break.
After you have found the best care possible for your elder, you need to go. Leave. Although you won't be able to keep your mind from turning back home every few minutes, resist the urge to call or contact those you have left in charge. If there is a problem, they will call you. Trust.
What about Georgina? Was her trust misplaced? No. What happened to Paul couldn't have been prevented. Realize that in spite of everything, the worst may happen. You can't prevent it.
Go. For your sake, for your elder's sake. Take a break.
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Car Partner Wednesday--The Care Partner's Vacation