Taking Care of You

How to Be Happy when You’re Taking Care of Your Aging Parent

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Does being happy as a family caregiver seem impossible or even inappropriate? Find out why it’s ok to laugh as you make the most of your sandwiched life.

Caregiving, whether it’s for someone who has an illness that makes them unable to properly care for themselves or a “normal aging” parent who just needs extra help, is hard. You have to perform tasks and fight battles you never expected. Essentially you are being a parent for your parent.

Many in this situation, especially when they also have kids at home, feel like there is no part of themselves left. How do you make the most of your sandwiched home and life?

Dementia is a terrible disease. It takes a normal, functioning adult and slowly eats away their brain until they are a literal shell of the person they once were. It’s devastating and frightening to the victim of this disease. It brings tremendous sadness and extended loss to those that witness their regression.

Related Post: Grieving the Still Living | A Stranger Disguised As Mom

Does being happy as a family caregiver seem impossible or even inappropriate? Find out why it's ok to laugh as you make the most of your sandwiched life.

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The reality can be awful.

When you start dwelling on your parent getting older and becoming less the person who raised you, it’s easy to become sad, angry, and bitter. These negative emotions will take over your life if you don’t do something to combat them.

While they are all valid emotions, many people almost feel required to experience them constantly. You feel like you’re doing something wrong if you’re not always sad and angry over the awfulness of a parent getting old. I want you to know that yes, you are allowed that sadness and anger but…

It’s ok to laugh.

Not only is it ok, it’s good for you!

In 2014, Time Magazine reported that laughter:
  • Relieves stress
  • Combats the negative health effects of grief
  • Calms anxiety
  • Improves blood flow
  • Strengthens your immune system

But it’s more than the health benefits

One definition of laughter on dictionary.com is: “the experience or manifestation of…joy.”  Laughter is our natural reaction to joy. Sometimes it’s hard to find but there is joy in your everyday and when you find it it’s ok to laugh.

Related Post: The Simple Solution to Finding Happiness As A Family Caregiver

We laugh out of sheer joy!

My MIL came into the kitchen. I was on the phone. She started waving her arms at me to get my attention so I told her I would be right there.

“No,” she said, “It’s urgent!”

I told my caller I would call right back and said, “What can I do for you?”.

“What is a Snuffleupagus?” she seriously queried.

I blinked in surprise, told her what I remembered from Sesame Street, and she walked away satisfied.

As soon as she left the room, I chuckled. I told my husband and SIL of the funny question my MIL asked. It brought us some moments of joy in an otherwise stressful and bleak situation.

My laughter did nothing to soften the severity of her disease. I was not mocking or making fun of her or her disability.  It was out of a moment of joy that I laughed.

There’s always something new.

My SIL recently had the opportunity to revisit her childhood home. We wanted my MIL, whose historical memory is still fairly sharp, to get to see the people and places of her past.

My SIL texted me pictures of several old friends. She called and while on speaker phone, I started to scroll through the pictures so my MIL could see all the familiar faces and places. We sat and talked and I scrolled back and forth through the photos.

“Oh look! There’s Ona!,” my MIL exclaimed.

We talked more and I continued to scroll back and forth, looking at the same 5 pictures repeatedly.

“Oh look! There’s Ona!,” my MIL exclaimed again.

We acknowledged her excitement and continued.

“Oh look! There’s Ona!,” for the third time in five minutes.

My SIL and I chuckled and again remarked about how nice it was to relive these old memories.

It’s easier to laugh than be angry.

When she puts on three sets of underwear one on top of the other “just to be safe”, pours koolaid in the Keurig because she wants sweetener in her coffee, or tries to barter for her still-in-the-wash-comforter, I laugh.

I laugh when she tells me the “cure” for a sour stomach is to eat as much as possible. When our conversations move in circles, jumping from one random subject to another and then back to the first all connected by a random “thread” visible only to her, I laugh.

I laugh because there’s joy in that moment. In spite of the disease, the “weird” circumstances, the role reversal, there is joy.

Too many caregivers feel entitled to bitterness. Sure, you have every right to be unhappy, but your anger and bitterness will do nothing to change your situation for the better.

Don’t let guilt cloud your joy.

You shouldn’t feel guilty because you find joy and, dare I say happiness in an otherwise bleak situation.  Don’t feel guilty about sharing these joys with others. Let them see that there are happy moments in your caregiving; that it’s not all doctor’s appointments, battles, and bribery for basic hygiene.

When your kid says or does something cute/funny/charming you don’t hesitate to share it. Is parenting always happy? No. Are there hard times; days you wish you didn’t have to be a parent today? Oh, yeah. Do people make you feel guilty for being happy; for finding those joyful moments? Rarely.

Caregiving shouldn’t be any different. You should be able to laugh at the cute/funny things your now innocent-minded parent says/does.

People looking at my life on the outside hear that my MIL has Dementia and that I am her caregiver. They feel sorry for all the sadness we must constantly feel. Don’t feel sorry for us though. In spite of an otherwise cloudy existence we have a joy-filled life.

Being happy as a family caregiver is possible! By making the choice daily to find joy and not dwell on the negative, you will find the happiness you so desperately desire in your sandwiched home.

Did you like this post? How do you find happiness as a family caregiver? Let me know in the comments below!

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Does being happy as a family caregiver seem impossible or even inappropriate? Find out why it's ok to laugh as you make the most of your sandwiched life.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for reminding me that there is joy to be found. My mother does not have dementia, but in the last 3 years she has become very forgetful. And I like the term “historical memory.” That is 100% intact in my mother. Just the other day she was talking about her grandmother’s house and it was like she had just been there a few days ago. Then she asked me twice where my girls were (I had just told her five minutes before).

  2. I’ve been a caregiver for four years now, Ann and I still have to remind myself (sometimes minute by minute) to look for joy. It is strange to me sometimes what my MIL can remember! Some days it seems like she doesn’t even have Dementia and others she has trouble remembering where the bathroom is. The mind is such a fickle thing!

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