Caregiver Support: Top Priority for Renaissance Caregivers is Themselves

When we think about caregiver support, an Irish Legend about two famous lumberjacks comes to mind. The first being a strong, young, up-and-coming lad making a name for himself as the best producer in the area. The second was much older and experienced, approaching the end of his career.

To determine which was best, a competition was created that involved a full day of cutting down trees in the forest. Simply put, the one who cut down the most trees by the end of the day earned the name of the greatest lumberjack in the land.

As the contest began, the young lumberjack was confident that his strength and endurance would prevail. A few hours into the competition, he felt even more confident as he could hear the older lumberjack taking short breaks every hour, on the hour.

caregiver support

When the contest ended, the young lumberjack smiled confidently that he would soon carry the title of “Greatest Lumberjack in the Land”. When the results were announced, he was shocked to hear that the old lumberjack not only won the competition, but he fell significantly more trees than the young lad.

Still in disbelief, the young lumberjack asked his elder how he had done it. The old lumberjack replied, “As you continued to cut away, I stopped every hour to sharpen my blade.”

It's OK to Ask for Help

Just last week, an amazing woman and her cousin came to our community to inquire about memory care for her father. During the day, she took care of severely autistic teenagers for a living. Afterward, she came home to her own 3 children and to care for her father, who is in the late stages of his Alzheimer’s disease. She had been doing this for more than 5 years. It was very clear that she was an AMAZING caregiver.

With tears in her eyes, she shared that it had just been the worst day ever with her father. She was absolutely exhausted and didn’t know what to do. At that point, everything stopped, and I asked her one simple question, “What are you doing to take care of yourself”. It turned out that the question was not so simple after all. In fact, after nearly 3 minutes of coming up blank, I turned to her cousin and asked her to help answer the question. We discovered that she was not stopping to “sharpen her saw”.

Take Care of Yourself

The first rule of caregiving is: “You have to take care of yourself before you can care for anyone else”. Even emergency first responders have trained that their own safety is a top priority. When life seems too busy to even breathe, that’s when we need to stop and sharpen our saw. Here are a few key steps:

  • Start by making a list of those things you enjoy most in life. You’ll need some that you can do in just a few minutes…others may take as long as an hour. It could be music, a good book, meditation, something spiritual, a phone call with a great friend, etc. The longer the list the better, but also write down how much time each item may take.
  • Identifying times throughout the day, when you can go to your list (i.e. part of your morning preparation, breaks at work, 5 minutes in the car before you walk into the house, etc.).
  • Schedule it! Just like you any other appointment, schedule appointments with yourself to sharpen.
  • Look for spontaneous opportunities throughout the day. When you got a moment, grab your list.
  • Ask for help. Your friends and family can help identify times in life when you can go to your list. Ask them to cover you every now and then, so you can take a short break.

Some of our most rewarding experiences and deepest relationships are fostered by providing care for a loved one. We just can’t lose ourselves in the process. Best way to prevent that, make sure that you stop regularly to Sharpen your Saw.

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