When her mom suffered a devastating stroke, Lori Ramos Cavallo left her son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren and job in Colorado to become a family caregiver in California.
“I took a new job running our family and I had no idea how to do it,” says Cavallo, who also took care of her stepfather, who was diabetic and on dialysis. “Imagine getting out of high school and being placed in the CEO position of a top Fortune 500 Company with no experience. That’s what being a new caregiver feels like.
“You’re raised to understand that your parents are going to die one day, but you’re not raised to know that there is a gray area in between. You don’t prepare for that mentally, financially or emotionally.”
Therapeutic writing—which she had discovered the year prior—was Cavallo’s saving grace.
“Journaling is a wonderful way to manage the struggles you’re going through,” she says. “It doesn’t require a lot of time and it’s free, other than the cost of a journal and a cool pen you’d like to use.”
Her journal was also a confidant. “As a caregiver, you’re going to have guilt,” Cavallo says. “You’re going to have anger. You’re going to have days where you’re going to think some pretty terrible things. A journal is a safe place to express those feelings and emotions without judgment.”
As part of National Family Caregivers Month in November, Cavallo, founder of www.CarePartnersResource.com, and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association have eight tips for caregivers:
1. Eat well. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet will give you more energy and help you stay heart healthy. For tips and recipes, visit www.heart.org/nutrition.
2. Exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days of the week. Exercise benefits you physically and mentally. If you can’t do 30 minutes at once, break it up into 10-minute increments three times a day.
3. Have hobbies. Take time to do something you enjoy every day, whether it’s cooking, reading, dancing or another activity. Caregiving is something you do, not who you are. Be sure to maintain your sense of self.
4. Laugh. Keeping a sense of humor will help you get through the learning experiences as a caregiver.
5. Ask questions. Do your homework and write questions in advance of appointments and get complete answers before moving on to the next one. Recording a conversation may help if the information needs to be shared or you struggle to take notes.
6. Accept help. When people offer to help, accept it and suggest specific things they can do. To invite family and friends to pitch in on tasks, try a website like www.lotsahelpinghands.com.
7. Journal. Therapeutic writing—whether it’s making lists, organizing your day or diving deeper into why you feel the way you do—can help relieve stress and organize your thoughts. Learn more about Cavallo’s Journal to the Self® workshop here.
8. Embrace the journey. Looking back on her eight years as a caregiver, Cavallo says, “Mostly, it’s not about what I wish they would have told me, it’s what I wish I would have heard. Caregiving is a journey.”