|Positano, Italy Photo by Yoosun Won on Unsplash|
When one is a caretaker for another human being, there is a tacit understanding that said caretaker will be available to the other human at any given time. This means lunches, appointments, errands, light housekeeping. There is much the caretaker does in service for another that is done in person, even just being present in the same room. However, the caretaker definitely needs a break from time to time. Well-intentioned family and friends will urge the caretaker to “take time for you!” or “don’t forget to self-care!” These are legitimate suggestions, but the problem, of course, is that unless someone else is around to sub in for the caretaker, the caretaker isn’t going anywhere. No matter how urgently he or she needs to flee.
For example, the following is a really generous offer: “I can come over and sit with your (father, mother, grandmother, sister, brother, cousin) for an hour if you need to get something done.”
But it’s a little vague. The need to get something done might come up at any time during the day or evening and the Offerer might be off having their own life. That is reasonable. Here’s how to make that offer a little more solid: “I can come over on Friday at 3 for an hour if you need to run out and get some errands done.” Now the caretaker can respond with something like: “We have Mah jongg at 3 on Friday, but I’d love to run out to the grocery at 1.” Definite days and times give the caretaker something to plan on.
One day I was complaining to my friend David about my urgent need for a haircut and a general all-round lack of time. He listened patiently while I vented and then he suggested I make a wish list. (Thank God he didn’t offer to cut my hair.)
“Why? To give myself more to do?” I shot back.
He ignored that. “Why not write down everything that would make your life easier, no matter how unlikely it sounds.”
“That will just make me sound whiny,” I whined.
“No, it won’t. It might help you get a clear idea of what would be actually helpful to you as opposed to simply accepting offers of help that don’t really do anything. It doesn’t do you any good to accept an offer that isn’t what you need—then you’re just helping your friend feel better. Plus, it might be fun to give your imagination a whirl and wish for a foot massage by Brad Pitt. It will never happen, but a girl can dream.”
As reasonable as he sounded, the idea fluttered away as I stopped at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and grab some almond milk at the market on the way home. Later, though, when I thought about it, I realized stress does tend to dampen the imagination. It might be fun to take my mind off of the week’s To-Do list and see if I could come up with a “For-Me” list. Turns out, David was right. Not only was it fun to indulge in my wildest dreams, but creating a list actually helped clarify some real needs I have been overlooking. And knowing exactly what I need can help me take care of it, whether or not someone is offering to help. Unless it’s that foot massage thing. That I’ll let Brad Pitt take care of.
My Wish List
…Sometimes I wish I could open the fridge and have the evening meal all ready to pop in the oven.
… I wish I knew someone who could manage the mountain of paperwork that comes along with old age. Medicare, insurance, doctors, prescriptions…piles are accumulating in my office. This person could also make all the phone calls that accompany the paperwork.
…I wish I could spend a weekend alone in a hotel with a pillow top mattress, room service, wi-fi and an electrical outlet right next to the bed. Oh, a bottle of old vine Zin would be a nice touch.
…I wish that, when I found I had an afternoon free, I had a gift card for a pedicure, a haircut, the movies or a bookstore so I would know what to do with my unexpected free time.
…I wish someone could come over and tell me what to do with my garden. (This really doesn’t have to do with being a caretaker, but I really need help with my garden. It’s a wish list after all...)
…Every once in awhile, especially on high maintenance days, it’s nice to get a quick, supportive text, email or voicemail. Such a message is a nice little pick-me-up especially when I can’t get to the phone. An actual card in the mail is like winning the lottery.
…And speaking of winning the lottery, I wish I could put an in-law addition onto my house so my dad could have his own “quarters” rather than just live in my remodeled dining room.
…I wish my dad’s doctors could be the ones who decide his medical care and not the insurance companies.
…It might be kind of nice if that foot massage could be arranged. It doesn’t even have to be Brad Pitt. I’d be okay with my husband providing it. In Amalfi, Italy.