The last thing you may feel like doing when you are actively caregiving is engaging that creative spark. Heck, if you were creative before caregiving, you may believe that your creative fire has been extinguished forever. Be open to opportunities for expression during and after your caregiving journey, as the creative act can be healing.
I had big plans to document my caregiving experience with my mother on social media. I had quit my job to take care of her, so I thought I would have time to launch a campaign. A few colostomy bag changes in, along with managing medications and doctor’s appointments, I realized caregiving itself is a full-time job. With the physical and emotional demands, I was lucky to scribble down quirky things my mother said or particularly good or bad situations for later examination.
When your caregiving episode comes to an end, there may be a lot that you want to express. Many would settle for a sense of normalcy, a return to their pre-caregiving life, however, some people may find something off-kilter in the new normal of a post-caregiving world. There is grief, of course, but there also may be an identity crisis.
No matter our age, becoming parentless is still painful. Those who lose spouses find themselves navigating the world without their better half. On top of that, some of us may feel a loss when surrendering the caregiving role. While often challenging, caregiving can make us feel needed and a crucial part in someone’s life. When that person no longer needs our services, whether because they return to good health or they depart this world, what becomes of us?
Talk therapy or support groups can be beneficial and so can seeking a creative outlet. For me, that is writing. I know a former family caregiver who is an artist and is capturing her father’s dementia battle with an illustrated memoir, featuring her own illustrations. One blogger I know creates memory bears for other families who have lost loved ones. Another blogger I follow writes poetry, while others have turned to collecting their family’s history for future generations.
Don’t think you are creative? Think again. Photography, scrapbooking, music, gardening, dancing: there are so many ways to express yourself creatively. Afraid you are not good? There is value in anything we create from the heart. Your creative output can stay behind closed doors, but if you do decide to share with others, it can be a rewarding experience.
I recently attended a week-long writer’s retreat in New Hampshire, a trip that never would have been possible while my mother was alive. Now I can travel without having to worry if I have a cell signal to check in with Mom daily. I can leave my phone behind to go for a leisurely walk, without worrying that I might miss a phone call from my mother or a doctor. Of course there are times when I wish I could just have one more phone call with Mom, but trips like this make me appreciate the value of truly being able to unplug and recharge.
Because there are over 40 million unpaid caregivers according to the 2015 Caregiving in the U.S. Report, it’s no surprise that other people in my writing workshop had caregiving stories of their own, even if they weren’t there to write about them like I was. From caring for spouses, to children and parents, my writing group members and myself shared aspects of the caregiving experience with one another. Our teacher said on the last day of class that caregiving is something that most everyone will have to deal with eventually, and that’s very true.
You may surprise yourself, in that you may be more open to exploring repressed feelings and experiences with a group of supportive strangers than your own family. Sometimes other family members may be too close to the situation, and there may be other resentments or grudges burdening the relationship. While writing workshop teachers often encourage students to dig deep, because the truths often are buried well beneath the surface, you are always in control of how much you want to share with the group. Creating from a source of deep emotional pain can be overwhelming; it is not unusual for a writing group member to have to abandon writing about a difficult issue for a period of time. Be prepared to challenge yourself but also set personal boundaries so you don’t relive traumatic experiences.
There were more than a few tears shed in our writing workshop, but it was a powerful and uplifting experience overall. When I stood in front of the group on open reading night and orally documented the last month of my mother’s life in devastating detail, it was an emotional but cleansing act.
As caregivers, we gain so much insight into human nature at its rawest core, as we watch our loved ones exhibit tremendous resolve in battling diseases, and even greater courage in facing death. It’s no wonder we may have a few words of wisdom to pass along.
Photo: Rhiannon Danae/Morguefile
Joy Johnston is an Atlanta-based digital journalist who began The Memories Project blog in 2012 after her father died of Alzheimer’s. Her essays have appeared in best-selling anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias.