You know your life is out of balance when you are looking forward to a colonoscopy, knowing that for one day you will be unavailable and blissfully under anesthesia. I recognize this feeling. This is how I often felt when I was taking care of my mother. This is called “compassion fatigue” and it is a form of burnout. It happens to those who serve others without giving enough thought to their own needs. I have reached this point. It is not because I am unaware of my own needs, but rather that things have to be taken care of and it’s up to my husband and myself to care for them.
This past week my sister-in-law and her husband were here from out of state and they were a big help. We were able to search for some care facilities that would provide memory care for Dad, but also provide a space where he and Mom could stay together. There are precious few facilities that provide that sort of service. After many appointments, phone calls and visits, we were able to find one that we could all live with and are in the process of getting on the waiting list.
Tomorrow, I take Mom to a doctor appointment. Of course, Dad will come to “help” which makes the process longer. After the appointment, I take them back to their apartment, get them safely squared away and then go to work for eight hours. Tuesday is an equally busy day, but Wednesday…ah Wednesday! I’m scheduled for a colonoscopy. I will sleep for most the day and no one can expect anything from me.
The apostle Paul wrote in the book of Colossians to ‘clothe yourself in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience’ (Col. 3:12 ISV). I love the metaphor of wrapping myself in the garments of kindness. I don’t love the fatigue that comes when I don’t show the same kindness to myself.
When I was caring for my mother, there were wonderful people who came along side me and helped me helping her. The very best was when someone would come and visit her to give me time off. God bless each and every person who did that. Taking a therapy dog to visit her, spending and evening making dinner and sitting with her, taking her to church or into their homes for a holiday so we could spend time with Mike’s family. Priceless, priceless gifts of their time.
If you know someone caring for someone with dementia or some other disability, have compassion on the compassionate. Clothe yourself with kindness and give them some time off to catch their breath. They’re in a marathon and they need you.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.