When the Caretaker Needs Care
Tomorrow I will be two weeks post surgery. And today, my mother/caretaker returned home. She’s been with me for 10 days, since I came home from the hospital. What a gift her care has been to me.
She nurtured me through this recovery, helping me find nutritious soft food options six times a day. She took me back to the hospital ER when my digestive system rejected the initial 36 hours of food.
She’s cared for my family with grocery shopping, meals and cleaning. She’s been my walking buddy to help me get up from the bed to the mailbox to the stop sign to all the way around the block.
She watched a lot of BBC television with me when I just needed to pass time resting my body and my brain. She planted annuals on my front porch to brighten my summer and let me do just enough to get my hands dirty.
She’s vacuumed my stairs and done my laundry and driven me to appointments. She’s been my companion as I received the telephone call that my tumors had spread to the lymph node.
Sometimes even adults need a mom, again, and I did. I told her I’d like to do that for her someday. Because she has her own health concerns.
She’s given me her limited energy so that I can conserve mine. That’s hard to ask just anyone to do, but I’ve needed and appreciated the care she and my husband and children and so many have given.
At my follow-up appointment we all noted some markers of improvement in my healing. I’ve received an okay to expand my diet a bit to include foods that are not just soft and super easy to digest. (Yeah chocolate!!!) With her leaving and the desire to do more, my goal for the coming week has to be this other medical advice I received at the same time: Conserve your energy.
If I only consider the status of what I can see from the outside, I will miss the healing that still needs to happen on the inside.
As a nurturer and doer myself, this is the hardest part of healing. I recognize my strength is returning but I can only use that strength for limited tasks. My priorities for energy go to basic essentials, not extras. And the definition of an extra has broadened to include anything outside of my limited home environment.
I’m adjusting my thinking on how to continue to conserve my energy despite naturally wanting to ease back into my previous role as a nurturer and caretaker myself. Today, I’ve found help from this experience from Bonnie L. Oscarson, the Young Women General President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At an overwhelming time of her life as she tried to care for many as the wife of a mission president and mom of four young children, she felt a lot of negativity in her challenging role but then learned to use the Atonement to work for her. She said:
“I asked for forgiveness of my shortcomings and tried to become a more patient and giving person. I realized that repentance is a daily necessity and that it simply means we are trying to be better each day. I prayed to understand how to prioritize the various things commanding my time. I tried to put the needs of my children first and to turn the things I just couldn’t manage over to others—and to the Lord. I had to work at letting the Lord take over the many things I worried about. I prayed and studied my scriptures. I learned to listen to the promptings of the Spirit more than ever and trust that the Lord understood me and stood ready to prompt and help. The busyness of my life didn’t change, but my ability to handle things increased. I have never viewed the Atonement the same way since.”
Whether we are sick or well, caring for others or simply caring for ourselves, the ability to discern what’s essential—without either making excuses or overdoing—is a skill every caretaker needs. Honestly listening to our body and spirit and knowing our personal circumstances enhances our ability to do more of what’s important and less of what drains our energy.
And those are the lessons I’ll return to all summer as my teens come home from school to stand in as my new caretakers and we all feel the role reversal in the coming months.