Posted by: Amy Hanson | November 1, 2011

Self-Care While Caring for Others

The spring of 2010 presented many challenges for me, and I have to say, the gifts were equal in the taking.

As fall descends so gracefully on us I reflect back on life over the last year and am very grateful for all that has happened. For those who may not know, my Mom had problems with her heart the spring of 2010 and ended up in The Jubilee Hospital in Victoria for major open heart surgery. She has come through the surgery and is on her way to a complete recovery. At 83 years old it really has been a miraculous process to witness.

I often focus on self-care and that is where I would like to continue. Most of us are caring for others, whether it is children in our home or a relative or friend that needs on-going or part-time care. How do we prioritize the needs of others and take care of ourselves at the same time? I have to admit, with all the talking I do to others about this, when faced with the potential death of my Mom, priority seemed to grab hold of my life and turn it upside down. All that I was working on for my business, all personal commitments that I had made took second stage to doctors appointments, emergency room visits and communication to my family. What I considered was….. this could be the last days I spend with my Mom and that made all else feel less important.

Where does my own personal self-care fit in with the care of others when in crisis? What I recognized very early on is that if I didn’t pace myself I would be the one needing help and that just wouldn’t do!!! So my routine was changed but not to eliminate those things I felt necessary for me to get through the crisis. Walking continued to be a daily event. My meditation routine morphed into shorter times, in places that were quite unexpected. The sanctuary of the chapel in the hospital was magic for those times when I needed to breathe and take time for inner reflection. Food choices, at restaurants were not as healthy as at home and so I began making as many meals as I could from my cooler. Living out of my suitcase became familiar. Each day I tried to spend time filling myself in whatever way that helped. Having time with my dog, reading, watching TV, writing in my journal; me time that didn’t draw down my energy.

There were many days where I sacrificed self-care with the idea that my Mom’s needs in the hospital or at home were much more important than taking care of myself. It wasn’t very long before my body would speak to me and let me know that I needed to be present for my own needs. Sleep would be difficult, I would lose my appetite and internal conflict would bring angst into my being. It was at this point I needed to really figure out what was best for me in the long term. What I found was there were several parts of me that would get in my way of listening. The part of me that thought I was the only one that could do the job, the part of me that was strong and didn’t need help, the part that looked for validation from family members, the part of me that found purpose for myself in “doing it all”. When these extreme parts surfaced I took a step back and re-evaluated what I thought to be truths. What I found is that these old messages no longer served me. I didn’t have to do it alone, others were just as capable, what I was doing was for me and my Mom and that what was important and my purpose wasn’t necessarily in the “doing”. As recognition of these parts became clear, I was able to shift back to a pace that was right for me.

A big part of the gift I received was to be with my Mom. She has spent a life time of service to her family and friends. It was her time to accept, although quite reluctantly, my help. Being present for what was happening to her, around her and within her. Holding her hand, listening deeply, laughing, crying and at times holding her in my arms for comfort, brought us closer than we have ever been. Surrendering can be difficult for many, especially those who have been independent their whole life. Both my Mom and I found ways to surrender to a very difficult situation and came away with insights that deepened the love and respect in our relationship with ourselves and each other.

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