Caring for someone during their illness can be simultaneously the hardest, most maddening, most heartbreaking, and most rewarding experience of your life. Humanity is wonderfully complex, and taking care of someone during a vulnerable time helps you to understand them, and yourself, much more deeply than you did before. Caregiving will test your relationship, but if you can make it through, you can experience a deeper level of love and commitment than you would have thought possible.
If you’re caring for someone at the end of their life, your love will be your final gift to them. You can give someone the strength to face the end. But it’s painfully difficult, and you’ll need to be careful to take care of yourself so that you can keep giving to the person you’re caring for. Here are 8 things you can do to stay strong while you care for your loved one:
1. Gather your team of support
Either by choice or obligation (or a combination of both), the task of caregiver has fallen to you. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a one-person-show. Even if you think it’s possible to do everything by yourself, gathering support can allow you to provide even better care and protect yourself from burnout.
But easier said than done, right? While many people are flooded with offers of help, it’s hard to know how to accept that much-needed help. Take a moment to write a list. You can even use online tools designed just for caregivers to create tasks and assignments and keep your helpers organized (and avoid tuna noodle casserole three nights in a row).
If people aren’t reaching out help, then reach out to them! People often become withdrawn or nervous when a loved one has cancer, and offering them a tangible way to help will allow them to cope and reconnect. If people aren’t stepping up, ask less obvious choices like acquaintances and coworkers—it may even be that people who are less close emotionally may be more able to help.
2. Schedule These Activities…
While your days will be packed with caregiving, when you do have time to yourself, The American Cancer Society recommends that you sprinkle your schedule with some of each of these four elements:
- Time with other people. Make sure you’re connecting with someone other than the person you’re caring for, at least now and then. You need someone who can listen, make you laugh, and allow you to relax.
- Tasks that make you feel accomplished. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a slog of caregiving tasks day in and day out with no real progress. Give your brain a boost by accomplishing a tangible task. Get in some exercise, write a blog post, or finally check out that new thrift store.
- Activities that make you feel good. Think of the things that make you feel relaxed. Do you love reading, a certain TV show, or practicing a quirky hobby? Make sure to do some of the things you love so that you have plenty of joy to sustain you and to share with the person you’re caring for.
- Illness-free time. It’s exhausting dealing with illness day in and day out. Set aside some time, preferably daily, when you don’t talk about illness or treatment. Take a break so that you’ll be ready to get back at it when the time comes!
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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.