Walking the Caregiving Walk


I teach caregivers about taking care of themselves. The past couple of weeks have put me to the test.

It started when my sister’s beau had surgery for lung cancer. Despite my continuous efforts to be proactive, she, like most caregivers, insisted she was “fine” and I did not need to come to Florida. Right up until she was in crisis and in tears. He was in intensive care, the dog at home needed walking, the lawn needed mowing, etc.

Six days was too long for her to wait. So three days later, I was in Florida walking the dog and getting life in order while she was his advocate at the hospital.

Ten days later, he was home, things were more under control, and I was headed home. I called my 94 year old mother and made plans for dinner the following night.. She had done beautifully while I was away; we had home care services helping and she was thriving.

When I got to her door, she looked awful. She said, “I’m not feeling right,” but she couldn’t be more specific. Two minutes later she was violently ill. I told her I thought she was being a bit extreme; a simple, “Hi, I missed you” would have sufficed. The rest of the evening was spent taking care of her.

The next day we squeezed a doctor’s appointment in between my clients’ appointments. Three days later, a cousin died. Three days after that, Mom and I went to his funeral. A chunk of the next day was lost in back-and-forth phone calls among the doctor, my mother, her pharmacy, and myself. This is the balancing act of a caregiver.

But I practiced what I preach, and here is what I noticed:

Exercise: I realized, after going to the gym, I walked out a little taller, straighter and more
relaxed than when I walked in. My mood improved and things didn’t feel difficult. If I didn’t have
time for the gym, at least the dogs got a good walk.

Gratitude: On those walks, I made it a point to notice something beautiful or find something in my
life to be thankful for. It made me feel better. Being “awed” is good for the spirit, and gratitude
keeps a positive perspective.

Connection: Talking with friends helped me remember there is a bigger world out there. And it
often led to …..

Humor and Laughter: Gallows humor makes tough things manageable, and just plain belly laughs
feel great. If I could find a way to laugh, I could find a way to cope.

This was just three weeks when everything hit at once. It served to highlight all the self-care that makes the long-haul possible.

If you do the things that keep your own head straight, then caregiving is more manageable and gratifying. You will respond better and be happier. Now that’s the path I want to walk.


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About Elissa Lewin

Elissa Lewin is a Licensed Psychologist and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has maintained a private practice outside of Philadelphia for 25 years. Her own experience as a caregiver led to her founding Nancy’s House, a comprehensive respite program for family caregivers. www.nancy's-house.org

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