If you are or ever have been a caregiver, you know how important it is to get a break now and then. I read an article this morning by Jeff Anderson called Tips for Taking Caregiver Vacations: Respite Care. Jeff wrote mostly about how caregivers can use short-term stays at residential care facilities to get a break. I never took advantage of this kind of respite care. The idea of making the arrangements for both Mom and Dad and packing their clothes and medications, not to mention the expense involved, was overwhelming. But there were many other kinds of respite care that gave me an occasional break in the routine and saved my sanity.
Even when Dad could no longer hear much of what was going on and Mom couldn’t understand what she heard, we continued to go to Sunday School and worship services every Sunday. I dropped Mom and Dad at a class for older adults before going to my own class and picked them up afterward on the way to the sanctuary. It was amazing what that hour did to raise my spirits.
When we first became a household of four, weekly shopping outings were a group endeavor. It wasn’t long before those outings became too chaotic for all of us, and since David hates shopping, he stayed home while I made the rounds. I came to treasure and depend on those few moments alone.
Our Sunday School class was a very social one, and there were lots of parties and get-togethers. Mom and Dad were always welcome, even if they weren’t officially a part of the class. Everyone loved them, and someone usually adopted them, filling their plates from the buffet line and watching over them for the evening. At first my caregiver’s guilt made me feel as if I was shirking my duties, by I eventually relaxed and enjoyed the brief break.
Early Stage Breaks
In the early stages, Mom and Dad were still somewhat self-sufficient, and we could leave them alone
for a few hours at a time. If I left their breakfast cereal on the table with their morning meds and left lunch in the refrigerator and left a note pointing the way, they managed quite nicely while David and I ran away for a few hours. If I had known how quickly that stage would pass, I would have arranged more outings.
During this period, we managed to get away for a weekend once or twice. One weekend in particular we wanted to attend a retreat with the counseling ministry in which we served. I sent an e-mail to our class and was flooded with offers of help. A lady in our neighborhood took on the responsibility of breakfast and medications, and others brought in lunch and dinner and visited for a while. Aside from the fight I had with Dad over whether or not he could have the car keys while I was gone, it was a perfect weekend.
Late Stage and Longer Breaks
My brother didn’t live close enough to help on a regular basis, but a couple of times a year he and his wife either hosted Mom and Dad in their home or stayed with them in ours for a week or two. Those were treasured days when David and I could have a completely carefree vacation away from the cares of caregiving.
As Mom and Dad became more dependent and their care became more demanding, breaks were harder to come by but more important than ever. Through a recommendation from a trusted friend, I found a “parent sitter” who became a treasured asset. After a few test runs, “Jane” became a regular Friday visitor, arriving before her charges got up in the morning and staying until David and I returned mid-afternoon. She managed meals and medications, gave Mom a bath and did some laundry and light house-keeping in their bedroom and TV room. The three of them seemed to get along well, and Friday became my favorite day of the week.
As my trust in Jane increased, so did my need for time away. A few times she rearranged her schedule so she was available for several days at a time, and David and I escaped in the RV. Mom and Dad went to bed early and got up late with no night wanderings, so she stayed with them only while they were awake. It worked out beautifully for all of us.
Every caregiving situation is different, and what worked for me might not work for you. But options for time away are available and essential. Respite care is sometimes pricey, but it’s a lot less expensive than a psychiatrist.