I was in a card store and a woman standing next to me was buying a huge stack of Valentine\’s Day cards. I watched for a while as she picked a bunch of cards for friends, as well as cards for her husband, her mother, her father, her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, her children, her grandchildren, and her grandchildren\’s teachers – and those were just the ones she picked after I started watching!!

I said to her “I hope you\’re going to get lots of cards, too” and she said “Nah, I\’m too old for that!”

I thought “how sad – too ‘old\’ for a bit of fun.” I left the store but I couldn\’t stop thinking about her because I realized it wasn\’t just about the fun. I thought about many of my friends (and, frankly, me) who do the same thing! We buy cards, candy, flowers, candles, make special dinners with our best china, all for other people – no effort to big when we\’re doing it for someone else. But would we do that for ourselves? I don\’t know about you but I know I don\’t do it for myself. It was yet another example of how we do so much for others and all too often, how little we do for ourselves.

That would be too bad but not exactly newsworthy. It is, however, a very big deal if you are an eldercare provider.

WHY IT MATTERS

It\’s virtually impossible to accurately predict the extent or length of the commitment to eldercare but for many caregivers, it\’s a lot longer than they ever imagined. In fact, in the interview with Roberta Satow for my Expert Interview Series (http://agewiseliving.com/shop-expert_interviews.htm), Roberta talks about caregiving as “a stage of life”. She explains that, unlike our parents who provided care for their parents for an average of 1-5 years, our own parents are living a lot longer now. So that means we could be facing 20+ years of caregiving for our own parents. So just as your childhood, adulthood, and raising your children are stages of life, so for many, is eldercare.

People ask me about my mother and I tell them that, although her mind is gone, physically some days I think she\’s healthier than I am! “She\’ll probably outlive me!” I tell them. Sadly, that would be funny if it didn\’t feel true! Like many eldercare caregivers, I put my own health and wellbeing after, well . . . . everyone – especially my mother! It\’s not surprising that few caregivers realize the toll it\’s taking on them personally in terms of time, relationships, money, peace of mind, and their health until they\’re overwhelmed and exhausted!

During the emergency instructions on an airplane, they always say “in case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else”. There\’s a reason they do that. You can\’t take care of someone else if you don\’t take care of yourself.

In other words, it is more likely these days that eldercare will be a long-term proposition and if you don\’t take care of yourself, you won\’t be able to take care of anyone else.

I\’m not just talking about eating right and sleeping enough and getting exercise – although . . . . yes, that, too!

I\’m talking about thinking in terms of eldercare as a potentially 20+ stage in life and planning for it and pacing yourself. A few examples:

  • Getting organized so you know what has to be done when.
  • Setting boundaries for what and how much you can – or are willing – to do.
  • Making arrangements for things you can\’t do – or don\’t want to do – and getting help.

In addition, starting this day-after-Valentine\’s-Day (and for the rest of your life!), turn off the cacophony of the “shoulda\’s, woulda\’s, coulda\’s. Be merry! Have some fun. Go out to dinner with someone you haven\’t seen in a while. Turn off your phone – and the Blackberry, and any other devise that keeps you connected to someone other than someone with whom you want to be connected. Take at least an hour a day for yourself. Hang out a ‘do not disturb\’ sign and do something fun or zany. Read for pleasure, catch up with an old friend.

What would you do for someone you love? Do that for yourself.

Like the hair color commercial says “I\’m worth it!”

© Copyright AgeWiseLiving® 2008 You can find information “How To Be Your Own Generational Coach”, WORKBOOK, AgeWiseLiving® seminars and free teleseminars, and to sign up for Barbara\’s free monthly newsletter at http://www.agewiseliving.com/ or by calling toll-free (877) AGE-WISE. Barbara E. Friesner is an author and the country\’s leading Generational Coach and expert on issues affecting seniors and their families. She is an adjunct professor at Cornell University, where she created and teaches “Seniors Housing Management” at Cornell\’s School of Hotel Administration.