March 24th, 2020
Today marks the third anniversary of my father’s passing. It’s been a winding, rocky path since he took his last breath. I think about him every single day. And though I made the decision to end this blog after his death, now I feel more compelled than ever to reopen it.
This isn’t a relaunch. We’re in a time of crisis and frankly, I didn’t have time to design the perfect “welcome back” experience. I’d planned to come back bigger and better than before but now it seems the only thing that truly matters is that I come back.
Time has a way of unpacking pain in a way that nothing else can. Today I feel like my eyes are more open than they’ve ever been. I can see my father, my whole family in fact, in a new way: not as I think they should be. But as they really are in all of their flawed fragility, moving through this broken world and trying to make things work as best they can.
I’m sure you and your family are doing the same right now.
COVID-19 has placed us at a standstill. We’ve been practicing social distancing for weeks as much as we can. But on days like today, it feels a little harder not to be able to hug each other or to share a really good meal together. But we understand the costs and we aren’t willing to risk it. We’re tightly holding on to each other, even if by long distance.
My grieving heart goes out to all of the families who have had to distance themselves from loved ones who are ill, especially those in hospitals and nursing facilities. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to be at my father’s bedside as he lay dying. I talked to him. I shared the things deepest in my heart. I offered what reassurance I could that we would all be ok. I played his favorite songs. It was not beautiful or charming, but that time was a gift that I will never take for granted. I can’t imagine being turned away at a time like this and leaving him alone.
So for anyone who is faced with these kinds of caregiving dilemmas during this treacherous time, I encourage you to protect your health, safety, and spirit at all costs. If there’s a way you can make your loved one feel comfortable, do it. Here are a few tips that I hope will help.
Agree to agree
As long as there isn’t a safety issue, be agreeable. Particularly if your loved one is challenged by memory loss or dementia. Disagreeing with them can cause them unnecessary distress. If they insist that something is true, simply discuss it with them and ask follow-up questions. You don’t have to validate the claim necessarily, but try to validate the emotions that come along with it.
Make an outside visit.
Tough times breed creativity. I’ve read a number of stories about adult children and grandchildren who still check in on their loved ones by making curbside or window visits. Now, being from a big city myself, I’m aware that this isn’t an option for everyone. But if there’s a way to maintain outside distance and still see each other’s faces, it’s worth a try.
Minimize the news.
Last week, I shut my phone completely off. I hardly ever do. But the minute by minute news was starting to upset me in ways that began to manifest physically. Stress is real. And it’s real for your loved one too. Help them limit the amount of news they’re taking in. Especially in cases where you’re home together, see if they would be willing to use other media such as music, movies, or trying a new TV show series.
Use FaceTime when possible, or at least send photo updates. Another thing I love to do is to send funny videos and songs to my family and friends. And last but not least, don’t forget about making a good old fashioned phone call. As a millennial, I often struggle in this area. I have great intentions but then I find myself leaning toward whomever I can shoot a quick text to. So let’s make a deal that this week that we will reach out to a loved one or friend by phone and check in with our voices. Even if it’s a brief call, being able to hear the real emotion in another person’s voice will be well worth it.
How are you staying connected?
Share your favorite ways of keeping in touch during this ordeal. And if you haven’t already, join the Caregivers’ village community on Facebook.