Arranging a long weekend away for me every few months is one of the many ways Jerry expresses his care for me. A group of guys from church volunteer to help with his evening and morning routines. I am free to travel, hole up and sleep, write, or any other combination of things that bring me pleasure and a change of pace.
But we’re living in a pandemic. Is it possible to still find rest or refreshment when the world is in crisis? Not only can I, but I must. We’re still sorting out how to make these respites work in our new normal, but here is one idea we’ve tried.
My weekend getaway was fast approaching. Once I got Jerry up on Thursday morning, I would not need to be home again until Monday night. I made plans to hibernate in the home of friends who were out of town. Their house sits on a lake and has a huge screened-in porch. I envisioned my every waking moment on the lovely porch and considered sleeping there in the recliner rather than the guest room.
Then came Monday.
The Monday before the Thursday I would go away, Jerry woke up with an infection. It wasn’t horrible, but it required a deeper level of care than his friends from church knew how to manage. Infections in people with disability can escalate quickly. This knowledge, combined with the uncertainty of growing COVID numbers, especially here in Florida, left me with an uneasy feeling about going away.
I suggested to Jerry we might want to consider changing our plans. After chatting, we could not come to an agreement. We decided to sleep on it. The next morning Jerry awoke telling me we needed to cancel my travel plans and his volunteer attendants. There were just too many risk factors we could not mitigate. I assured him that unlike some periods in life; I was not at a point of being stressed with his care, or in need of a break. Changing plans for this weekend would not have adverse effects.
He knows me well. Expecting this response, Jerry said he wanted me to maintain as much of my original plan as I could. He made a strategy for mealtimes, and his waking hours. He even dubbed the five days, The Weekend of Joan. Conveniently, it fell on the opening weekend of Major League Baseball. He offered to stay in his office or our bedroom to watch games, giving me the full run of the living areas in the house.
Most mornings, since Jerry was still working, he began responding to messages and reading work projects while still in bed, allowing me to sleep in. We had not discussed this, and it was a pleasant surprise when I woke up later than usual the first morning.
Thursday, I took a brief road trip. Just me. It was exactly what I needed. A safe change of scenery and time to let the idea percolate that the next few days were for me. It was fun to think of the many things I could do . . .writing, reading, coloring, knitting, baking, swimming, and napping in my hammock. As fun as the planning was, moving from one activity to another without cleaning the house, grocery shopping, or tending laundry was even better!
Each night Jerry asked how the day went for me and reminded me each morning that there was still time to celebrate The Weekend of Joan. And I did.
If you think I have an amazing husband, you would be right. Though later, one of his good friends said to him, “Sure, you’re all proud of making a Weekend of Joan when now there are three more Months of Jerry until her next one!”
It it is hard to be a caregiver. It is hard to be in a pandemic. It is hard to not know what will change tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean life has to stop. It doesn’t mean our plans have to go on hold.
I write this to give you hope.
If you are someone on the receiving end of care, what can you do to celebrate, appreciate, and/or give a slight change of pace, or perhaps even a lengthier time off, to the one who assists you?
If you care for someone who cannot help you plan a break, think in small increments. Are there 15 minutes in the day, or start with five minutes, to sit outside, read a page or two of a magazine or book, or slowly sip your coffee? I serve Jerry better when I take care of myself, in big and small ways. I imagine it is the same for you.
For those of you who are friends or extended family members of people who need care, I write this for you too. Maybe you’re not ready to take on a big step like a morning or evening care routine, as Jerry’s friends were. Please understand this is not the only way to give a break to a caregiver. Take a walk together and push the wheelchair. Stop by with an already prepared glass of iced tea to share. Drop off an unexpected meal or gift card. Sit in the driveway, socially distanced, with the person needing care and listen to the story they repeatedly share, allowing the caregiver some time alone to take a bath, or rest their eyes for a few minutes.
Most of us need variety and breaks in our routine. Sometimes it won’t look like a weekend at a hotel, or a retreat at the lake. A weekend away isn’t always in the budget, or the calendar. As our needs change with aging, overnights away are less likely.
Getting a break isn’t as much about where I go, or what I don’t have to do. I think it is about engaging fully in the moments, hours, or days I have, whether caring for Jerry, working, cleaning, napping, or reading. Perhaps this is one lesson I am to learn in my 2021 year of “FOCUS.”
What is your favorite way to catch a break? I look forward to gleaning new ideas as I read your comments, right after I get back from a walk with my neighbor!