Past merely surviving to thriving in this pandemic
I am a newly minted full-time caregiver and house-husband. Previously I was a part-time caregiver with a part-time contract at Stonebridge Haven. I had a roster of ladies-in-waiting (PSWs, a mom/sitter and a cleaning lady) for my vulnerable 93 year old father-in-law who suffers from dementia and lives with me and my wife.
With the onset of the pandemic, I was released from my work contract to focus on taking care of my father-in-law. To limit the risk of infection I discontinued all his favourite lovely ladies and have attempted to fill the vacuum myself. Being the wrong gender and often preoccupied with other things, I am a poor trade and he is missing the stimulating sociability of their visits and so is becoming more depressed. Which then Which then means he is less likely to agree to go for a walk and recently he has started sleeping a lot more, even for him. This is all understandable of course as is my heightened use of relaxing drinks that take the sting out of these dreary days. Face it, despite all my spiritual training and personal development, I am finding this a hard slog and so is he! But then so are we all.
The most difficult part of the first month or so of this isolation for me was the loss of playing piano and singing in weekly practices and worship, the loss of singing in retirement residences and working on that music with my buddy Greg. Sharing my musical gifts was a big part of my life! Then there was the loss of walking and talking with friends, what I call mutual transformation, as we share our lives and struggles and find more grace along the way. We have had to stop face-to-face coaching sessions at Stonebridge as well as life-changing work has been put on hold for a variety of reasons including the pandemic. I also had to stop my weekly visits to see my Mom who is in long-term care with Altzheimers – although with things improving some and her facility still COVID free, I might be able to try window visiting.
Added to all of this was feeling tossed into this broad and deep soup of anxiety/ennui. For example, going shopping was painful as everyone there was stressed and anxious. Even 30 minutes shopping at the Independent was enough to flatten me for the rest of the day! As we moved over to getting most of our supplies delivered, the stress now has shifted to focussing on correct sanitization technique because I make many mistakes and the possibility of getting my father-in-law sick really upsets me.
So here am I not getting the meaning and purpose I am used to finding in leading music, in hanging out with my friends, in coaching, in visiting my Mom in long-term care, etc. Added to that is how in daily life I am often anxious and disappointed in how my aging cognitive capacities are letting me down… with being sharp around sanitizing supplies, remembering to use/not use gloves, masks and what to touch or not when I am, etc. It has been a difficult month adjusting to all this!
Let me share my caregiving and house-husbandly duty schedule with you as I see them and then how I am trying to structure my days so that we (my father-in-law, my wife Jane, my friend and “sister” Claire and I) are all doing better. We consider the four of us to be our little family, just in two homes. Long before COVID got here we were necessarily good at contagion control so that if one person got sick, it did not mean we all had to get sick. We are all healthier and stronger for our inter-connected support for each other in our lives as one household in two homes.
- Provide breakfast for my father-in-law and Jane
- Make lunch and dinner for Jane to take to work
- Water the plants, feed the fish and cats
- Cue my father-in-law and help him with his hearing aids and medication in the morning
- Print up stories from electronic media to replace the newspapers I used to get for him
- Make lunch for my father-in-law and hopefully take him for a walk
- Make dinner for my father-in-law
- Load the dishwasher and clean up any pots and pans
- Share cleaning and laundry with my wife
- Handle food procurement in co-operation with Claire for our two households
- Work out the meal plan with Claire for our two households
- Help with Claire’s cleaning and other tasks as her bad knee makes some of it difficult
- Share cooking with Claire for our two households
The structural supports I have tried to get into place are:
- Breathwork and meditation virtually paired with Claire
- Morning prayer with Claire
- Sometimes evening prayer with Claire
- Sometimes compline with Claire and Jane
- Some time for working on music – working towards publishing spiritual and popular songs on YouTube
- Walking for at least 30 minutes a day
- Sometimes exercising with Claire
- Occasionally adding in yoga, either alone or with Jane
- Reading the news for a couple of hours each day, I find it helpful to stay informed
- Phoning or virtually meeting friends of mine a few times a week
So here I am on this first day of the rest of my life, on this day of virtual prayers for our observant Muslim compatriots (last Friday when this was first written), reminded of how all we people of faith while walking with the God we understand and experience, nevertheless find ourselves all too human as we struggle with how our routines have been disrupted. Faithful souls everywhere are now finding meaning and purpose are being challenged in this pandemic soup in which we find ourselves. So, taking one step at a time, I am writing today as part of settling myself down and perhaps offering some kernel of insight that you the reader might find of value.
Whatever your faith or spirituality, we know that facing challenges and working through them brings the most value despite how easy it is to flee into distraction, busyness, and other compulsive ways of self-soothing. Admitting and accepting that you are finding yourself in this pandemic soup is a good starting point. Few of us have had to live through a pandemic before – let alone as a caregiver. So it can be disruptive adjusting to self-isolation and the loss of the familiar routines that support us in this long-term labour of love we have taken on in caregiving. Then add to that the increased anxiety around everything from contagion to finances. We may find ourselves even more overwhelmed by this pandemic soup than those responsible only for themselves.
You too may benefit from trying to add structural supports to your days although each of us will have our own unique pieces of the puzzle to assemble for our personal support structure. Each step taken towards self-care helps us find our way in this new reality and gives us a better chance at handling all this while staying safe, well and connected to the One in whom we live and move and have our being.
Please feel free to reach out to discuss anything this first pandemic caregiver blog might be bringing up for you. You can email me at email@example.com.