By Elizabeth Shean
I love to travel, but I rarely get to do it now that I take care of Mom. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy relying on Mom’s caregiver to attend to her needs, but Mom refuses to have overnight care at this point, even though she needs it. I understand that. She hates being “fussed over,” and while she can tolerate it for a few hours a day, 24 hours might be asking too much right now.
However, I need regular respite from caregiving. It is not a luxury for me. Too much togetherness with my mom leads me to feel chippy and impatient. Blow-ups occur if I don't get enough time to relax and get away from Mom.
This is an equation I had been wrestling with for some time. How could I achieve respite if I couldn't be gone overnight? Last week, I got an answer.
My oldest friend, Karen, flew into town to visit me for seven days from Canada. Despite being very well-traveled due to her business, she had never made it to New Mexico before. I was excited to be able to show her my beautiful state.
An understanding friend might be the most beautiful gift a caregiver can receive. Karen immediately grasped the reality of my situation with Mom and was happy to strategize her stay so that she and I could spend plenty of time together and get out of the house while not going away overnight. Despite the constraints of my caregiving life, we managed to have a perfectly marvelous staycation that felt like a vacation for her and a period of respite for me.
We planned our days in a way that had us leaving when Mom's caregiver arrived at 8:00 each morning and returning to the house around 3:00 p.m. when she clocked out, which still afforded us plenty of time for visiting local attractions. We went to Santa Fe for most of one day, and we drove up the "turquoise trail" to Madrid, where we enjoyed perfect weather while sauntering through quirky galleries stuffed with gorgeous silver-and-turquoise jewelry and other items crafted by New Mexico artists.
Most days we bundled Mom into the car and drove to a local eatery for an early dinner, so Karen could sample the native cuisine. Mom enjoyed being included in our activities, and she always likes going out to eat. This strategy proved to be a "win" on all counts.
Mom usually retires to her bedroom around 6:00 p.m., where she watches television or has me put on a DVD for her. This arrangement gave Karen and me plenty of time and privacy to revisit ancient history: the college shenanigans we got up to, whatever-happened-to-Mr-Hunky-Dude, and other nonsense. We drank martinis and laughed like the schoolgirls we once were, marveling at how maturity has changed our perspective on all of that stuff.
Our staycation itinerary also included a day hike into the Sandia Mountains. Both Karen and I love outdoor activities, and this shared experience solidified my resolve to become a more expert hiker. We snapped photos of boulders and lizards—and a roadrunner who graced our walk with an appearance. All the while we chattered about our current lives, our aspirations, our troubles. We may not have solved any of the world's problems, but we certainly gave each other all the empathy one could hope for.
A great professional caregiver is a gift, too. I would never have been able to enjoy any of this time with Karen if not for Mom's caregiver. Without the caregiver's expertise, my thoughts would have been preoccupied with Mom: was she all right? Had she fallen? Could she get herself some lunch?
But having a professional caregiver in place gave me immense peace-of-mind. When Karen and I were together, I almost never thought about Mom because I knew she was in good hands. The mental rest I got while hiking, lunching or otherwise communing with Karen was invaluable.
Prior to Karen's trip I thought respite needed to involve long periods of time away from caregiving, and I'm glad I discovered that's not true. I didn't get away at all, and yet I still feel refreshed and renewed. Karen said she had a great time, and I did, too. In fact, I'm already looking forward to our next staycation.