What Loss Taught Me About Self Care
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
It was Saturday, February 4th at 6:01pm. I had just arrived to a friend's house for dinner and to play cards. Mycell phone rang, and I saw it was my dad. I thought it was odd for him to be calling, at this time of day since he was usually watching basketball games or was out and about. My intuition was screaming, "Answer the call, Lindsey!"
After pondering for a couple of second, I answered. On the other end of the call, was not my dad. It was my mom, and she said that she was with my dad in the ER. Without saying another word, she handed the phone to my dad. As my dad started to talk, I knew something was wrong. His voice was shaky yet quiet. I heard fear, and uncertainty. He proceeded to say to me, "You know how I haven't been feeling well lately?" I responded, "Yes." He proceeded to tell me that while he had been in the shower that day, he felt a mass in his stomach. He mentioned it to my mom and since my mom does not play around with bumps, masses, lumps, etc she took him to the ER.
I was listening intently, wondering what he was going to say. He continued to tell me that the dr. came in and ordered some immediate tests. After all the results came back, the dr. walk in and told him that the reason he has not been feeling well was because he has stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. The doctor added that the cancer had already spread to his stomach, colin, liver and lymph nodes. I will never forget hearing my dad begin to cry and say, "They have given me about 6 months left."
My heart dropped, and I froze immediately. I did not know what to say. There was a moment of silence between us that felt like 5 minutes. I am sure it was only seconds though. I recall telling my dad, "Dad, just because the doctors think you only have 6 months does not men it is the truth. They are human too, and they are not always right. I believe with my whole heart you can be a miracle that the dr's cannot explain." He cried. I cried. I do not think I have ever felt such a sense of shock. In an instant, my whole life changed. It took a sharp turn, I did not see coming.
The following week felt like a total blur. I was in disbelief. How could this happen to my dad? Wednesday, of that next week, I flew home to be with my dad. My brother and I met at the airport since I flew in from NY (I had been visiting my boyfriend.) and he from CO. We drove up to my dad's house in Chattanooga, TN. We developed a plan, and I decided I was going to move into my dad's house to help take care of him. I was fortunate that I worked from home, so I could work from anywhere. I went into "care giver" mode, doing anything and everything I could think so make this situation better, and to see if I could help make my dad a miracle case.
I started researching every alternative, holistic approach that may help my dad be cured. I was determined to save him. The problem is that he didn't appear to want to be saved.
As the days went by, and my dad started chemo, he got worse and worse. The chemo, in my opinion, made his life shorter than it could have been and also deteriorated his quality of life. I found myself living as the "General Manager of the Universe" role which wore me out. In my mind, this was a time when my family needed me. No matter what it took, I was going to make sure my dad, grandmother and my uncle were taken care of and had whatever they needed. The problem with this philosophy was that someone went missing in the equation....ME. What about ME? What about my health? I was doing such a great job at making sure that everyone else was taken care of, I lost me.
I will also mention that my dad was an only child as. His father, my Papaw, died at age 64 from lung cancer. His mother, my Ganny, was still alive and well at age 84. To say this diagnosis was hard on her is an understatement. She got this news all while taking care of my 91 year old, great uncle who had alzheimer's. They lived together on our family farm. My Ganny pushed herself in taking care of my Great Uncle. She felt as though it was her calling to help him as he only had one child, a son, who died in a motorcycle crash when he was in his 20's. His wife had also passed away from alzheimer's years ago.
Weeks progressed and it was my observation that my dad had thrown in the towel. He was ready to check out. All the research I had done landed on deaf ears. It was one of the toughest things to watch. MY dad slowly got worse and worse and there was nothing I could do except spend time with him and help him with the things I knew he could no longer do for himself. This was HIS journey.
It was 11:40am on Monday, April 23rd. We had just celebrated my 33rd birthday on the 20th. I was working, and I heard my dad start to breathe funny. I walked over only to discover that he was struggling to breathe. I knew the time had come, and it was only minutes from being his last breath. I held his hand tightly as we all surrounded him. within minutes, he took his final breath. It is the strangest feeling to have relief and sadness all in the same moment. I was relieved that my dad was no longer suffering yet overwhelmingly sad that he was gone.
As we moved forward, had the funeral, and everyone went back to normal life mine didn't bounce back like others. I had promised my dad that I would take great care of my Ganny and my Great Uncle Johnny. I was living, part-time, with my Ganny and Great Uncle to help them out. She lived on 8 acres of property, in Chickamauga, GA, which needed to be taken care of. You can probably guess who thought it was a great idea to take on that task too. Yep...Me! I must say I was beyond grateful for my boyfriend, at the time, who jumped in and helped out.
I recall one night, about midnight, we were out finishing up the yard. I looked up at the sky, with tears streaming down my face, and said, "God, please HELP! There has to be something better I can do than what I am doing. This is taking everything I have and more." I had a townhouse in Atlanta, GA. I was traveling back and forth attempting to take care of both worlds. Stress was showing up in every aspect. I was exhausted. My relationships were strained. My hair was brittle and breaking, and my nutrition was far from on point. I was on auto-pilot, doing whatever it took each day to get by. I was NOT taking care of me.
I continued this cycle for 8 months. My grandmother had ended up in the hospital during the month of August due to COPD complications. After she got home, we spent many nights just sitting and chatting about memories when she was younger. I learned a lot more about her and some really funny stories. We talked about life. We would cry and then laugh so hard we cried some more.
Then, the last week in November Ganny went back into the hospital. I had felt confident that she would come home in just a few days, and I would have her teach me how to make her beautiful scarves. On Monday morning, DEcember 3rd at 7:00am, she called me unable to breathe. She said, "I need you here immediately. I cannot breathe." I was at the hospital within 30 minutes.
I had kept praying that I would have at least one year between deaths. On December 8th after my whole family had been at the house playing games and spending time with her, she passed away around 11:30pm. It may sound morbid, but it was beautiful. She always told me that she did not want to die alone. She passed with approximately 11 of us around her.
I had also made her a promise that I would take care of my Great Uncle and she had nothing to worry about. At first, I thought I would be able to live with him and be his care taker 100% of the time. I quickly realized that working full time, from home, and making sure he was good was not working. I had to make a decision. I either had to give up my life and take care of him 100% of the time, or find him a home where he could get the proper care. This quickly became one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.
I chose to move him to an assisted living. I cannot thank my family enough for reminding me that it was the best decision. I also thank them tremendously for their help in moving him. The following year, on December 4th, my Great Uncle (aka My Buddy) passed away. Funny how when we ask for things we can get it. Remember, I had asked for at least 1 year with noone dying. I got 363 days. My Great Uncle passed away with family surrounding him. Two days before he passed, I made the choice to have him moved back to my Ganny's house, so he could be home. I know he was grateful.
You may be wondering when the light bulb came on? When did I pull it together and see that the best way to get through this was to make sure I was taken care of as well? It was later, unfortunately. I started slowly seeing it after I lost my Great Uncle; however, it was not 100%.
That is why I write this. I hope that if you are taking care of someone else, or you are a MOM who is giving all of yourself to everyone else, that you read this and begin to show yourself the same love you are giving to everyone else.
What steps did I follow in learning to take care of myself? First, I reached out for help. I hired my own Heal Your Life Coach. Second, I had to learn that it was NOT selfish to take care of me. I needed to be 100% healthy in order to be able to give to everyone else. Here are my top 7 self-care practices that, I feel, are vital in my own self-care.
1. #Journaling - Journal your feelings and emotions. I did not take the time to grieve. I had emotions going through at a pace that I could barely keep up with. Finally, I chose to journal what was going on each day, so I had a way to express myself and let it all out. I was so busy that I didn't share what was really going on inside my head. Honestly, I am not sure I know what all went on during the time. Journaling is also great to revisit so you can see how far you have come.
2. Grounding Practice - What is #grounding? How do I do it? Grounding is bringing yourself back to center. #Refocusing where you are what is directly in front of you. I was so overwhelmed with working full time and being a care giver, sometimes I would walk outside barefooted. I would firmly plant my feet in the grass and imagine myself as a tree. My roots would go down through my feet and firmly grasp the ground underneath me. I would take at least 5 deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. It may sound crazy. I challenge you to do it and then let me know how crazy it is. For many people, grounding may also look like daily meditation. If you are new to #meditation, I suggest going to YouTube and searching "guided grounding meditations" and pick one that speaks to you.
3. Ask for #help - I cannot stress this one enough. What many people do not reazlize is that many family and friends WANT TO HELP. We give them a gift when we ask them to help us out. Many times, those people do not know how to help until we tell them exactly what we need. You may say, "But, I do not even know what I need." I will address this in my next practice. I want to say this loud and clear though, "Asking for help does NOT make you weak. It is a sign of #STRENGTH."
4. Identify your #Needs - By being awake and aware to your mind and your emotions. When something happens and you find yourself angry, frustrated or disappointed, ask yourself "What is it that I want and I am not getting." Pay close attention, and you will uncover needs you probably never realized you had. If you find yourself saying, "If I could only escape for a day." Make it happen! I hired a sitter to come stay with my uncle for the day while I treated myself to the spa. Journal your list of needs, then ask people to #help you in meeting them if you cannot do it yourself.
5. Establish Boundaries - #Boundaries are HEALTHY! There are people out there that will attempt to take advantage of you when they see you giving and giving to so many. They think that they can slide in and take more of your time and energy. Again, be aware of the people around you. If their energy does not lift you up, encourage you and support you let them go. Establish and know what works for you and what does not. If it does not work, it is OK to say NO. You do not need to explain yourself either. No is a complete sentence.
6. #Exercise - I do not care if this is a 30-minute walk down the street and back. Get out and MOVE. Working out is one of the best stress relievers we have. I know the "to do" list is super long, and you may "not have time." CREATE the time. MAKE the time. You have got to be healthy in order to keep doing what your are doing.
7. #Nutrition - Eat foods that fuel your body and not ones that can cause dis-ease. I had been eating healthy prior to my dad's diagnosis. I had even lost about 35 lbs. Once I was in the midst of care taking, I realized that I let my food be one of the first things that got sabotaged. Our food is fuel! Stay the course, and feed yourself yummy food that satiates your body. Give it what it needs to keep on moving.
8. #Pray - God hears you, and will only give you what you can handle. Everytime I asked for help, he provided what I needed. Trust that everything is happening for a reason, and will only make you a better person.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have been able to handle my dad, grandmother and uncle's passing much better. These are just a few tools that have now changed my life. It took a huge toll on my health. I am grateful that I have been able to recover and bring my health back to where it needs to be.
My experiences have driven me to help others in similar situations that I found myself. I do not regret anything as I did the best I could with the knowledge and tools I had at that time. I have learned so much, and now I use this knowledge and experience to help others dealing with similar circumstances. After I had gone learned these lessons, God guided me to coach 3 more clients who were dealing with the passing of their father's. Ironic? Nope? God's plan? ABSOLUTELY! If you are one of these women who feels as though you have lost yourself, or you are care taking of someone and you are exhausted let me help you. Email me and let us set up a time to chat. What do you have to lose? firstname.lastname@example.org YOU, YES YOU, ARE #WORTHY AND #DERSEVING of that same #love you give everyone else!
#Resource You Can Heal Your Heart by Louise Hay and David Kessler and The Art of Extreme Self Care by Cheryl Richarson