It’s February which means it’s a time when thoughts turn to love and Valentine’s Day. According to the ads, you are thinking of your special someone and deciding what (expensive) item you’ll surprise them with on February 14th. And maybe those ads have got you dreaming of what your Valentine will give you. Maybe you’ve even left out a subtle hint in the form of a picture showing what you’d like as a gift. If we believe the marketing, we women should be drooling over and expecting jewels. Expensive jewels.
But what if your life doesn’t look like that? What if you’re a family caregiver and you know what you’ll get for Valentine’s Day – nothing, and whether it’s for your spouse, child, sibling, or parent, you’re starting to question how you feel about this other person. The honest truth is that being a family caregiver is not pretty. It’s not roses and fine chocolates. Chances are it looks more like Depends, filling containers with medication each week and once again, deferring to the other person’s wishes.
Some days it really stinks. You didn’t sign up for this, even if you became the caregiver willingly. What I mean is, when you were planning your life, you didn’t include caregiving for a loved one in that plan. Well, I didn’t anyway. Neither my parents nor my husband followed the plan I made, and it can be quite frustrating.
When my mom became ill unexpectedly and passed away, I immediately became my dad’s caregiver. I loved my dad, but some days, quite frankly, I didn’t feel terribly loving towards him and my behavior reflected that feeling.
While he lived with us, I definitely lost that loving feeling more than once. My life had spun out of control and I didn’t know how to handle the three men (dad, husband, son) and one male cat in our house. Sometimes I left. I went for a walk with friends. Many, many times I called a friend from the car. I cooked and baked when I was at home. In my more sane moments, I tried to engage my dad in what I was doing. He was grieving the loss of his beloved wife and nothing in life had prepared me for how to help him.
I hated how this felt and how I behaved. And I tried to change. I made changes when my dad lived with us, and again when he didn’t. I tried to engage my dad in what I was doing if I wanted him involved. For example, I invited my dad to sit in the living room and talk with me while I unpacked hundreds of my Mom’s Hummels. We talked about the cost, her collection, and sometimes we talked about her.
I became comfortable telling my dad I needed time to sit and read quietly. That wasn’t the first or last time I was upset with my dad.
After living with us for four months, he decided he wanted to move into a senior apartment complex (are you surprised?) that provided his meals and did his laundry. Right now I have no idea what upset me so much, but one day I stormed out of his apartment, slamming the door as I left. Not my proudest moment. Definitely wasn’t feeling the love that day. I had to go back into the apartment to get my purse among other things, but first I went downstairs and walked around and got coffee and graham crackers. They were always available and free, so while you shouldn’t eat for emotional reasons, I crunched those graham crackers and eventually made my way back upstairs. I calmed down and nothing was said about the incident.
After that I tried harder to have something planned for my visits to my Dad. I visited three times a week when he was healthy, so it wasn’t always easy to think of something. I brought food, talked about TV shows, books, and the news. I wasn’t perfect. Many, many days I called my best friend and vented for the entire 12 minute drive home.
I’ve realized that no matter who you love, and the condition of their health, not every day is perfect. We get mad at those we love. They disappoint us, we disappoint ourselves because of our reaction. We hold ourselves to such a high standard that we can’t possibly measure up to our ideal, so we beat ourselves up. Hard. So what could possibly make us think that we can’t be mad at our loved one just because we are their caregiver?
I’m my husband’s caregiver now and some days I’m less than happy with him. Some days I wasn’t happy with him before he developed a health problem. I’d be lying if I said he was happy with me every day. We’re both still human!
So, what are some things to try when you’ve lost that loving feeling?
Step away if you can. If you can’t get out of the house, go into the bathroom, close the door, and scream into a towel.
Or hide in the bathroom and read a book for a while.
Put on headphones and listen to something you like such as a podcast or music.
Call a trusted friend and vent. A very trusted friend, as in the type that will listen without judging you.
Go for a walk, kick a soccer ball, squish PlayDough, run, pull weeds, scrub the floor.
Update your Facebook status, leaving out the details, but asking people to post their favorite jokes.
And breathe. Then give your loved one a hug and move on.
When you have a chance, think briefly about how you’re feeling, or aren’t feeling, and see if there is something you could do differently that would help the situation. Try something else to see if it works.
During this month when thoughts turn to love, love yourself. You’re doing the best you can every day in a trying situation.
You may have lost that loving feeling, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent loss. Shake it off and try again, and ask your loved one for their suggestions. They just might have a good idea. Or decide to move into a senior apartment!
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