I once hosted a “relaxation table” for hospital staff, visitors and patients. I had a sand table, tactile balls, puzzles, coloring sheets and Legos (!) for passersby to spend a few minutes relaxing. Every child who came by ran over, but most adults passed by. A few adults stopped and said, without touching a thing, that they wished they did have time to relax.
When did the child within us lose the time we need to relax and play?
Most parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents can remember the joy of interacting with small children and how much we also enjoyed their toys. It’s relaxing to focus on just one thing, especially something out of the ordinary. Many people notice they laugh more and are less tense after playing.
Perhaps one of the advantages of caregiving is the slower pace that tends to accompany illness or disability. It’s no longer possible to race off on a quick errand, and more time is spent at home. However, caregivers often find it tedious to wait for their loved ones. Some caregivers end up frustrated or more stressed.
Another approach is possible. You can use moments of waiting to practice deep breathing. Times spent by the bedside can be used for reading, drawing, journaling, coloring, listening to podcasts or even playing with toys. Sometimes the one you are caring for may even enjoy joining you.
Caregivers rarely get to take long summer vacations, but I suggest you make a commitment to yourself this month to make summer happen anyway, perhaps in smaller chunks throughout the summer.
If you dream of going to Italy, borrow a travel video and watch it after you get some take-out from your favorite restaurant. If you wish there was a trip to the beach in your summer, find a soundtrack of ocean sounds (available free on the internet), some sea shells and pictures of past trips to reminisce with your loved one. If you dream of a cruise with someone close, call her instead and set up a few lunch dates or a day trip, perhaps on the lake. If you wish you could attend a family reunion, consider inviting one of the children over (with their toys) to play for a few hours. Love trips to national parks? Promise yourself a walk in the S.C. Botanical Garden in Clemson or visit local waterfalls to cool off. Want to go to the Grand Canyon? Grab some BBQ or Mexican fare and watch a Western that takes place where you long to go.
We can’t change our circumstances, but we can choose to make this summer special anyway. Prioritizing mini-vacations throughout the summer will make you a less resentful and better caregiver when you are at home. Be creative in coming up with things that relax you. Choose caring friends that will join your mini-vacations or offer respite so you can go.
Why not choose something now that will make this summer memorable and special?
Eunice Lehmacher, a licensed independent social worker, is the bereavement coordinator at Prisma Health Hospice of the Foothills in Seneca.