When mom could no longer care for her beagle, Louie, I found him a new family. Mom asked about him every day for a few weeks until his memory melted into Alzheimer’s oblivion.
Six months later, my beloved golden retriever of fourteen years passed away. Even after a year, I still talk to Casey every day.
Although mom will never again be a full-time pet parent, she’s found great joy as a surrogate pet mom. Friends bring their dogs by for a walk along the beach. We “borrowed” a golden retriever from a neighbor for an afternoon. We may even foster a dog this summer.
Pet therapy isn’t just for seniors. My caregiving menu now includes petsitting and animal shelter volunteering.
We tell pets our darkest secrets. They see us as we really are. And they still love us unconditionally.
In taking care of people, pets and places, I find I am one of the people I must take care of. Yes, it seems selfish. Yet you can’t keep up with the rigorous demands of caregiving, let alone life in general, if you don’t take care of yourself.
I’ve had a lifelong struggle with “self” words. Selfish, self-centered, self-willed – this was me for years. Even now, I cringe when I hear “self-love.” I approach the concept of “self-care” with extreme caution.
But I’m learning that you can’t pour from any empty cup. Like an airplane oxygen mask, start with yourself first.
Here’s my Self-Care Kit. What’s in yours?
Caregiving handbooks: Passages in Caregiving, The 36-Hour Day
Mindfulness supplies: 3-minute meditation, yoga mat, journal
Happiness provisions: face spritzer, lavender lotion, magazines, nail polish
Healthcare: protein bars, running shoes, fruit, nuts, water
Like much of my family life, the religion of my childhood was far from normal.
I was raised in a religion based on faith healing. It rejects medicine, doctors, hospitals; bans alcohol, tobacco and drugs; and encourages an unhealthy level of self-righteousness.
My parents divorced when I was eleven and I divorced myself from that religion, beginning a twenty-five year spiral into alcoholism: a life of half measures and wanderlust, unfulfilled careers and relationships. But I never stopped believing in God. Now, through my journey to the home of self, I discover spirituality.
And a new purpose: caretaking. My 81-year-old mother is challenged by Alzheimer’s. She’s lost her entire sense of time and space but remains rigidly devout. As her primary caregiver, in an ironic twist of fate, I learn to respect this religion and accept her as she is.