Caregiver Respite: 5 Ways to Make It Last

The magic number for the trip was "5." Five days of the sound of ocean. Five days of reading magazines. Five days of eating scrumptious seafood in lovely beachside restaurants. Five days of chatting non-stop with my dear friend of 45 years, Laurette.

Caregivers can make their respite breaks last once they return home with these 5 tips.

It took me five days of this nirvana to finally wake up in the morning without a panicky feeling, "What didn't I do before I left? What do I need to get done today? What have I forgotten? What ends did I leave loose?" Five full days before I could lie on that beach chair, thoroughly relax and not be uncomfortable with the lack of a schedule. Five days to a "whatever..." atttidude!

But I finally got there. Ahhhhh.

Any of you who are caregivers know that the thought of a week away from our loved ones can seem overwhelming. While respite is necessary for us to be good caregivers, it requires a great deal of planning ahead. Prior to my respite vacation, I was crazed with questions such as: Do I have the paid caregivers set up? Can my friends check in and make sure the caregivers are doing their jobs? Who will drive my parents to their appointments? Do I need to reschedule doctor visits? Nevertheless, I got out the door and on the airplane.

Sadly, the vacation was only six days, so once I reached the go-with-the-flow stage I had one day left to cement the feeling. Did I want to go home? Not really. But I'm so lucky to have a dear friend who gave me this special gift; I want to make it last as long as possible. My goal is to maintain the peace I found in myself at the beach.

Here are some ways I'm translating that week of respite to a renewed ability to cope:

  1. Respite journal. I write down everything - the emotions I feel as I start to wind down all the laughing, talking with friends, getting a massage, exercising, writing, watching movies, reading self-help books or escaping in a novel. Writing it all down helps me later when I am I the throes of caregiving and need to find quick ways to recapture that "whatever" feeling.
  2. Massage wishes. As the masseuse worked on my upper back, neck and shoulders I felt like he was breaking up all the emotional tension there and it was turning into fairy dust and floating away like the wisps of a ripe dandelion. So I made three wishes as I envisioned blowing on the dandelion: 1) peace of mind; 2) wonderful caregivers who love my parents, are totally committed and conscientious, warm, loving, humorous, energetic, smart, and dependable; and 3) wisdom to continue getting the best treatments for my parents. Weekly trips for a massage or pedicure will help me relive this feeling.
  3. Meditation sounds. I find that at the beach the repetitiveness and constancy of the waves seems to blur the constant chatter (a.k.a. worry) in my head. My mind quiets and I don't even feel the need to think. When I got home, I downloaded a sounds of nature app that helps soothes.
  4. Dance. One of the great joys of the beach is watching the little children play. Their unbridled joy is so evident. It reminds me that, deep inside beneath the layers of grown-up crap, my soul is still actually as light and free as they are. Watching them helps me reconnect with the freedom at my core. Since I returned from vacation, I try to replicate that feeling in my life by dancing more often - it's the closest thing I can find to that physical expression of freedom those beach kids have. I dance with my Dad, with Jackson, by myself in the living room with music blaring - whatever works. I may even try some dance lessons!
  5. Do nothing. Although I am aware that I am a "human being, "not a "human doing," it's extremely difficult for me to just "be." When I'm not hands-on caregiving I'm working, cleaning, organizing, managing finances, yard work, planning ... there's always more things on my to-do list. It's tough for me to justify any time to just relax. But at the beach I was able to get to a point of stillness. How can I replicate that at home? In additional to my daily meditation, I try to spend a little time each day - even if it's just 15 minutes - being entertained by television, reading a book, sitting on the porch and enjoying a cool evening, having a cup of tea and glancing through a magazine or listening to music.

How do you stretch your respite time once you get back into the chaos of caregiving? Please share your ideas in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: Amy Goyer

Amy Goyer is AARP's Home & Family Expert; she splits her time between Washington, D.C. and Phoenix, Ariz. where she is caregiving for both of her parents who live with her. Her new book, AARP's Juggling Work and Caregiving, will be published fall of 2013. Follow Amy on Twitter @amygoyer and on Facebook.

Search AARP Blogs

Related Posts
February 04, 2016 09:00 AM
When Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I knew he would need all of his senses to help interpret the world around him and balance his changing cognitive abilities. But he has hearing impairment and limited vision (glaucoma plus visual-processing problems associated with Alzheimer’s). Even though there is only so much I can do about the visual issues, I assumed  hearing aids would solve his auditory problems. I was wrong. The good news is that we eventually discovered a surprisingly simple solution.
February 01, 2016 10:00 AM
The phone rang one day when I was at work. It was my mom. “Come right away, Elaine, we need you,” she said. Mom had just driven Pop to the emergency room. I knew Pop must have been very sick, because Mom hadn’t driven a car in years.
January 21, 2016 01:00 PM
I have been both a live-in caregiver and a long-distance caregiver. In fact, currently, I’m really both. My dad lives with me (as do my sister and her two sons at the moment), and I also travel for work, about a week every month. I’ve learned to manage my loved ones’ care no matter where I am. Here are some of my tips for other long-distance caregivers.