Sunday 11 October 2015

I'm A Caregiver and I'm on Holiday

My husband Jim and I are soaking our feet after a long walk through pine forests and seaside cliff sides in north-eastern Spain.  We are on holiday.

As I walked today, I thought about being away from our son and my Mom.  Taking two weeks from home and fragile loved ones is a tricky business for many reasons, not the least of which is guilt.  I'll admit it - I feel a bit wistful, but not guilty and that's because my husband and I planned the heck out of this trip.  Feeling happy and at peace while away is a very personal matter. For me, I need to know that everyone in our circles of care has our itinerary, contact numbers and that any important events or appointments have been rescheduled till after our return.  I need regular, written updates on how it's going back home and I need to skype often so that I can see my loved ones up close even though I'm far away.  Most of all, I need to trust that Nick and Mom are being cared for very well at home, and I do.  We are blessed with a great team and a loving extended family.

Everyone needs a holiday sometimes, especially caregivers!  It can be difficult to begin thinking about taking time off, but vacations pay huge dividends to you and to your loved one. A rest and a change helps to build positive attitudes, appreciation of each other and resilience for the long haul.

Some caregivers will choose to go away, leaving instructions to call only the case of emergency.  Others will want daily phone or email updates so they can relax by knowing that all is well.  Everyone's comfort level is different and there is no right or wrong in planning for the type of reassurance a caregiver needs to feel relaxed.

Whether or not your loved one lives at home or in a care facility, you will need to create a detailed travel itinerary along with contact details.  Let folks at home know how often you plan to be in touch and what kind of information you need from them while you're away (that way there are no surprises and they're ready to give a report when you call or email).

Here are some considerations in planning a vacation if your loved one lives at home:

  • Do you have care arranged during your time away that will meet the needs of your loved one? Do you trust this care? If you have hired agency staff, invest in enough training time before your departure to ensure that you feel good about the care arrangements. Take at least one whole day out of the house before going away to ensure that you can correct any errors or answer questions. 
  • Arrange visits from extended family and neighbours to check in or have a meal with your loved one. 
  • Ensure that food matters are all covered.  This could include grocery or meal delivery as well as planned outings to restaurants. 
  • Have a plan in place so that your loved one knows who to call for assistance of any kind during your absence.  
  • If you are travelling outside of your telephone area code, it's a good idea to purchase a roaming package from your phone provider (if you have a mobile phone).  This way, you can easily keep in touch by phone if that gives you comfort.  Using your mobile away from home without a plan can be very expensive.
Here are some considerations in planning your vacation if your loved one lives in a care facility:

  • The most important special planning task for you will be to think about how you would like to communicate with paid care staff during your time away.  Being explicit about frequency and content of information sharing between care home and you on holiday is key.  Paid staff may be prone to feeling mistrusted or threatened if you hand them a list of your communication wishes without a friendly discussion first. Explain that you trust them, but that you need a lot of reassurance that everything is alright while you're away (if that is what you want).  Whatever it is that you believe paid staff can do to help you enjoy your holiday should be made clear to all concerned well before you leave. 
If funds for time away are a barrier to your respite, consider getting in touch with agencies that offer holidays to long-term caregivers such as CAREGIFTED.  A google search of 'Caregiver Relief Charity for Respite' came up with a number of community faith groups offering this assistance as well as others such as The Caregiver Relief Fund

The bottom line is, if you can manage it, a caregiver holiday is a very good thing - both for you, your loved one and your whole family.  It's an investment in your own mental health and the wellbeing of your family. 

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