Two days before Thanksgiving of 2014, my life descended into caregiver chaos. Not because of a kid with special needs. But because of an aging parent with special needs. My mom, to be specific. Who came to stay with us until the end of the year to give her primary caregivers, my brother and his wife, a much needed break.
That break nearly broke me because in quick succession…
Mom had what we think was a TIA that affected her balance and thinking.
My husband’s back went out, and he was MIA for several days.
My brother and I put Mom’s name on an assisted living facility’s waiting list, expecting a 2 month wait.
A week later, someone from the facility called to announce they had an immediate opening.
The next week, our granddaughter was born 10 days early.
The same day the page proofs came for my latest book.
And our daughter and her husband moved into a new condo.
A week later, we moved Mom into the care facility.
The next day, I went to help with the new baby for several days.
When I came home, my husband and I arranged to haul furniture to our kids’ new condo.
I am not making this up.
And I’m not even mentioning the time spent dealing with an email hack, a Facebook hack, the sudden death of the business software I’ve used for years, wrangling with Mom’s insurance company, wrangling with a financial institution not eager to cash in one of Mom’s annuities, a week long visit from our daughter and son-in-law right before their move, the dog that died, or the evil laugh Mom gives when she beats me at Uno, which is pretty often.
By about mid-Janaury, life began to settle down.
Or at least it felt that way, as long as I ignored the box of Mom’s mementos that needed sorting, the pile of paperwork that needed filing, my email inbox overflowing with correspondence to answer, the sorry state of the refrigerator and pantry, and how overwhelmed I felt every morning when I thought of everything that needed to be done.
I needed to recover from caregiving chaos, but didn’t know where to begin.
Until one morning on my morning walk. Usually I review Bible memory verses for the first part of my walk and listen to an audiobook after that. But that morning I grabbed a small, yellow legal pad and a marker, determined to write down everything that needed doing. That way, I figured I might be able to capture the chaos and bring order to it. And do you know what? It worked.
It can work for you, too, if you follow these 5 easy steps.
- Brainstorm. Get away for awhile to think about everything swirling around in your brain. Go somewhere quiet, or at least away from parenting and caregiving duties, so you can think interrupted for at least 15 or 30 minutes. Pray and ask God to bring to mind all that really needs doing in the next few weeks or month.
- Write it all down. Use pen and paper, or a mobile device or computer if you prefer electronic notes, and write down what pops into your brain. Whatever it is–business, family, home, cooking, cleaning, organization, advocacy–all the overwhelming stuff swirling around in your brain, write it down.
- Prioritize tasks. Spend a few minutes rereading your list. Relish the fact that everything is written down, so you no longer have to worry about forgetting what needs to be done. Categorize them into what needs to be done today, tomorrow, later this week, sometime next week, next month, and so on.
- Make a schedule. Now pull out your paper and pencil planner, your giant wall calendar, or your electronic calendar–whatever you use to stay organized. Add every item to the appropriate to do list for today, tomorrow, another day this week, next week, next month…you get the idea. You may not get everything on the list finished every day. But everything is captured and written down, so it won’t be forgotten. So if you don’t get it done, move it to a different day.
- Leave some down time. Always schedule in some down time for yourself. Because of several commitments, my free day was about 3 weeks out. But just knowing that Saturday, February 7 was waiting for me made all the difference. I had as much fun day dreaming about what I would do as I had doing it.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up when everything doesn’t get done.
And know that one day, caregiving chaos will once again swoop down. Because, as you know, life as a caregiver–whether you’re parenting a child with special needs, welcoming a newborn into the family, or caring for an aging parent–means you are only 5 minutes away from chaos at any given time.
But as you also know, we serve a God who brings order to our lives through the love of the Father, the light of Christ, and the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit at work in our chaotic hearts. And that, dear friend, is a promise you can write down and cling to.