Caregiver Respite and Laughing until Your Face Hurts

Members of River City Improv

Members of River City Improv

At the age of fifty-three, I’ve become a groupie. It started four years ago, when my 1,200-square foot house was closing in on me.

At the time, Dan and I were taking care of my mom with advanced Alzheimer’s and my dad in our home. We were also caring for Dan’s dad, who we’d just moved from our house into a Veteran’s facility five miles away. We’d had one week to hustle Norman’s single bed and belongings downstairs and bring in a queen bed and Mom and Dad’s possessions. It was a wild and wooly seven days, with shower chairs, Ensure, prescription meds, C-pap machines, and incontinence products flying in all directions.

During those last three years of in-home care for my parents, my house was the place where I wanted to cry the most but couldn’t find the space. Mom and Dad’s room was just three steps from my own. Before coming back to Michigan from Iowa, Dan and I had owned a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house. We’d enjoyed a master suite in a wing off the back, while our adult kids had spaces of their own in the basement and Norman had the freedom to rattle around in his own bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom. But even with the added space, our house was still a place of stress during those years. We were always listening for the next fall, always checking med levels, always bathing, feeding, hovering, and soothing.

And and much as we loved our role as caregivers, we had to leave our house to truly relax. We were always on duty at home, never truly able to rest when our parents were living with us. And because Dan and I worked alongside each other in a ministry setting, it was even more important that we figured out how to find ways to relax, laugh, de-stress, and communicate on topics other than parents and work.

Respite took some interesting forms over those eight years. We went to a lot of movies to escape the house and find a reason to laugh or cry. I wish I could tell you that we talked our insurance company into paying for our Harley. (In the end, I believe it was a lot cheaper than a stroke, heart attack, or divorce. ) Our road trips were our chance to enjoy nature and let the tension fly. So was the tiny cabin we bought for our daughter for a thousand bucks (yeah, I said a thousand) and renovated as a family. Now that was a respite plan, folks. Stress release with a crowbar and a sledge hammer.

Every caregiver needs to find ways to find respite, and they don’t need to be as expensive or extravagant as a Harley. When we moved to Grand Rapids and discovered a clean, Christian improv company, we quickly became their biggest fans. On two separate occasions,  River City Improv performers have actually stopped the show because of my maniacal laughing. But what can I say? It’s the laughter of a woman who often walks a fine line between faith and freaking out. Dan and I often leave at the end of the night with aching cheeks, having stored up enough laughter for days.

Respite can be found if you’re willing to look and willing to ask. Got a friend with a hot tub or jacuzzi? Ask if you can borrow it for an hour once every two weeks, and while you’re asking, she if they’d be willing to come sit at your house with your loved one. Do you have a lovely historical library? Make it your favorite place to read once a week and soak up the beauty. Do you have a community nature trail? Go for regular walks–alone or with a friend.

Find places that refresh your soul and feed your spirit. They may be as close as the spare room in the basement, the creek in the back meadow, or the bowling alley across town. Throw in a good laugh and let your endorphins run wild. And if you ever get to Grand Rapids, join me with the River City crowd. I’ll be in the second row, laughing until my face hurts.

8 thoughts on “Caregiver Respite and Laughing until Your Face Hurts

  1. It’s great to see your blog up and running. It looks great and I love being able to keep up with your travels and successes. Congratulations on Hallie’s Heart and the future success of Morningsong.

    • Hi, Wally. I hope to see you again before too long. Keep me in the loop with your writing projects!

  2. I will never forget your maniac laugh when you and Dan took me to River City Improv last summer. Every time I think of it, I start laughing again.

    • A manic laugh? I guess you’re right. River City brings out the crazy in me. I love them! Miss you a lot, lady!

    • Hi, Sharon. I think that letting ‘er rip can be highly therapeutic.

  3. Having just come home from taking my 10 y/o disabled daughter to horse therapy, where she vomited all over the front seat of the car before we could even get inside, I need some respite.

    The never-ending-ness of caregiving is exhausting. I just emailed a girlfriend who has a hot tub. And I’m going to go lay on my bed with my ipod in my ears. Even small escapes are helpful!

    Lynn Rickert
    En’s Mom

    • My god-daughter Alicia had forty brain surgeries before the age of eight. As a dear friend of Alicia’s family, I’ve had glimpses into the unrelenting pressure of your life, Lynn. I met Alicia’s mom, Cindy, on Christmas Eve, when I took my college-age daughter Jessica to the hospital and told Cindy that Jess and I wanted to return early in the morning to do two-on-one care for Alicia (who was then just a baby) so Cindy could go home and spend Christmas morning with her other two kids and simply be a mom. Jessica had cared for Cindy’s children before. and I figured she’d trust the abilities of an older woman, plus Jess, whom she already knew.

      My kids were grown and in college. Opening their gifts on Christmas morning meant nothing to them. In fact, they were more than happy to open them on Christmas Eve. What Jess and I could offer was the gift of time and memories. And Cindy longed to have the memory of Christmas morning at home with the children who missed out on so much because of their sister’s illness.

      That morning a new friendship was forged. I became a surrogate “hospital” mom for Alicia and Cindy. I had the freedom to accompany or visit them on long visits to Children’s Hospital in Detroit when most of my friends with kids at home couldn’t. During a slice of life before I became a caregiver for my parents, I had the time and flexibility to be available in ways many women couldn’t.

      Lynn, perhaps there’s someone in your life who has a bit of flexibility and can extend a little extra respite to you. Maybe they’re waiting to be asked or haven’t thought about it. Sometimes a word to those in leadership in our churches can help people understand the needs of those caring for the disabled in long-term situations and the role of partership.

      Those of you who have flexibility in your lives, look around you and pray about what you have to offer–a Saturday afternoon? A heart willing to become the “surrogate parent” who accompanies your friend for long-haul stays at children’s hospitals? Or do you have the willingness to to approach your church leadership and discuss ways of partnering with caregiving families to provide respite?

      And, Lynn, consider asking for a frequent flyer pass for that hot tub.

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