The phrase I probably say the most to my clients and their family members is, “Let’s just take one step at a time.” It can be overwhelming to deal with making too many decisions all at once, especially as a caregiver of an aging loved one. I know sometimes it seems like you have to, that it is demanded of you, but slowing down when it feels like you have to speed up is the first step. As you slow down and pause this is really the moment that you can step out of the fear that many caregiving situations can push you into.
I have been reading the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz this past week. I read it many years ago, but recently felt the need to pick it up again. Its message is simple in the four things Don Miguel wants you to remember:
Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment. It will be different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are unwell. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.
These four agreements are like a ray of sunshine when you slow down and bask in their wisdom. They remind you how to act impeccably and of course the reward is that you become a better person, a better caregiver of your mother, your father, your relative, your resident or even a stranger. You remember why you are there and what the true purpose is.
As I look back over this past full year of intensive caregiving, the road is similar to starting a business. Everything that you need to learn, to let go of, to redefine, becomes intensified. It will either drive you crazy or you will come through the storm wiping your brow, but knowing a strength you previously didn’t think you had. You are reconnected to something that is greater than you, but that is you.
The biggest thing that I have learned in supporting seniors and their families in transition is that you can’t figure everything out and put a defined order on things. There are so many variables that can happen, you just have to take things one step at a time and stay open. In my own life caring for my mother, we have gone from her living in her own home to an assisted living residence to my home to Hospice House and now to a care facility. Each change has brought challenges and the need to develop new relationships and new ways of doing things. Accepting change after change is difficult for all of us. Each environment has brought me face to face with living within the boundaries of the healthcare system and the many people that do their best within it.
Some days I feel helpless to face the extreme difficulty of seeing the parent I love in a residential care setting. I feel a sense of loneliness and disengagement from so many of the faces staring back at me as I walk through to Mom’s room. It hurts and feels so much more personal now. I have begun to take the time to smile and touch and connect to those blank faces and I see some little smiles begin and a faint light return to their eyes.
Having no regrets is all that we can each hope for when the closing chapter comes on our own life. How we treat each other and especially our elders determines that. Stop, pause and ask today how you can make a difference in an elder’s life and do it. Just take one step and do your best.