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

Losing My Religion

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.

Louie, Louie

When I was seven, my family adopted a dog. Part Setter and Saint Bernard, he was huge. We named him Jack. He was the sibling I never had.

Jack passed away a decade later, helping my mother through a divorce and the unexpected departure of a daughter. She never had another dog. Until Louie.

She inherited Louie, an elderly beagle, when her husband moved to a nursing home. But as her dementia became more serious, she couldn’t keep up with Louie’s needs.

Instead of dropping him at a shelter, I contacted the only beagle rescue in the state and within three days, Louie was adopted by a young couple with a hundred-acre farm. His new people greeted him excitedly, along with his new sister, another beagle.

Letting go of Louie was heartbreaking, a bittersweet reminder of that sly thief, Alzheimer’s.