As part of her job, Amy Boulware walks alongside caregivers. So when she found herself caregiving for her grandmother and mother, she thought she had the tools she needed.
“I did not expect to be caregiving for two,” says Boulware. “My grandmother moved closer so we could take care of her. Shortly after she moved, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I quickly realized caregiving is very different when it is your own family.”
At one point, Boulware found herself running between hospital rooms trying to care for her mom and grandmother. On top of her caregiving responsibilities, she continued working and taking care her own family.
“I was definitely burning the candle at both ends trying to keep up,” Boulware says. “One night, I came home late. As I walked through the door, my youngest daughter yelled from the bathroom, ‘Mom, can you get me some toilet paper?’ I went to where we usually keep toilet paper, but there was none. I searched the other bathrooms. There was no toilet paper in the house. I had a complete meltdown over no toilet paper. As I’m lying on the bed sobbing, my oldest daughter comes in the room with a very large package of toilet paper.
“She says to me, ‘Mom, Daddy and I talked on the way to the store and we are pretty sure this really isn’t about toilet paper, but here is toilet paper and a pint of chocolate ice cream because we thought you needed it.’”
Surprisingly, the "toilet paper incident" made Boulware realize she was exhausting herself.
“Carrying the load by myself was not the answer,” Boulware says. “I called my uncle and asked him to take over the finances. I called my sister and asked her to come home more often. We hired caregivers to help with my grandmother and we did some other creative things that made a huge difference.”
Since she has walked this road, Boulware offers words of wisdom for caregivers:
- Ask for help. Recognize other people's strengths and ask them to help you in those areas. Help can come from many places, including family, the faith community, friends and paid caregivers.
- Time off is a must. Thursday night became date night for the Boulwares, and nothing interfered with it. Caregivers, family, friends and co-workers all knew that evening was sacred, so they helped them to have much-needed time away. The Boulwares turned their phones off and decided not to discuss caregiving at all.
- Routine changes can help. Boulware’s grandmother lived close to her daughters’ school so the girls went to her home in the afternoon. The family ate dinner there one night a week. Making this change eliminated a lot of stress. Plus, they made memories with their grandmother that are forever etched in their minds.
- Be a supportive spouse. Never once did Boulware’s husband tell her it was too much. In fact, she describes him as supportive and as a great gift as he walked alongside her. It brought them closer together as a couple.
Being a caregiver is innately stressful, so properly caring for yourself is a vital part of the process. If you are running on empty, it is difficult to effectively care for others, but asking for help is not a sign of weakness. A helping hand or two can make all the difference.