My father passed away recently, and my mother has passed, too. With both, I had the opportunity to support them in different ways as a caregiver during their time of transition.
Whether you’re a professional caregiver or an “accidental” one who is stepping in to support a loved one, it’s really hard work. Empathy exhaustion is very real, and you can end up feeling completely burned out if you don’t take specific steps to take care of yourself. I’m grateful that mindfulness helped me stay grounded and present while minimizing overwhelm. Mindfulness is a gift that all caretakers can give to themselves.
Here are some mindfulness tips (and some lessons learned) that you may find helpful if you are in the role of caregiver. You may also want to share them with someone you know who is navigating this challenging role.
Expect to be surprised.
There’s nothing “standard” about end-of-life caregiving. Every experience is unique, as is every life. It is likely that there will be moments where you’ll find yourself needing to support others in unexpected (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways. Remember to breathe. You’re only human.
This can be an intensely trying time emotionally, energetically, spiritually, and even physically — especially if you are supporting someone around the clock and not getting much sleep. To minimize overwhelm, stay grounded and in touch with your body. Try focusing on the soles of your feet. Feel your body breathing. Notice what you’re hearing. These are all ways to ground yourself in the moment.
Use a calming mantra.
When my dad was near passing, I held his hand and repeated a mantra, matching my breath to his: “We’re here, letting go. We’re here, letting go.” I don’t know if he could hear me, but it seemed to be calming to him — and it certainly was calming to me. It also seemed calming to my sister and my husband. When you create peacefulness for yourself in a challenging moment, you also hold space for others to tap into it as well.
Pause to give yourself an energy refill.
Self-care is so important for caregivers. Commit to giving yourself time to refill your own energy coffers. Take a walk. Get outside in nature. Talk to a dear friend. Watch a funny movie. Do whatever it is that makes you feel good and replenishes you so that you can really show up the way you want to when you step back into being a caregiver.
Something will work.
The bigger and more varied your mindfulness and/or general self-care toolbox, the better. This isn’t a time to rely on a single method; you need options so you can help yourself feel better whether you’re there holding a loved one’s hand, on the go from point A to point B, or actually taking a few moments to yourself. For example, you might not have patience for a guided meditation in a given moment, but you might have patience to take a walk. You might not have patience to sit and read a spirituality book, but you might have patience to watch a funny movie. Stay open. Allow yourself to use the right tool for the moment.
Be gentle with yourself. Being a caregiver isn’t easy. Slow down. Listen to yourself. Listen to your loved one. Do what you can, and accept what you can do — and what you can’t — without judgment or expectation.