The Calm and Centered Caregiver series
Family caregivers, when’s the last time you had a vacation? Is that even a legitimate idea – a vacation from family caregiving? It absolutely is, and the official term is ‘respite.’ During ‘normal’ times people vacation for all sorts of reasons; a change of scenery, to rest and rejuvenate, to learn something new, to renew our body, mind, and spirit, to feed our spirit of adventure, and more. While doing arguable the most demanding and yet most sacred and gratifying duty of all, caring for a loved one who can’t care for themselves, doesn’t it make sense that your need for a vacation is even greater?
What about your loved one when you are vacationing?
First off, you must find a way to avoid feeling guilty for enjoying yourself. Then you must accept that others can do a pretty good job of caring for your loved one, even if they can’t do so quite as well as you can. You are the best – we all know that!
Arranging for alternative caregivers while you are away is called respite care. Learn more in “Substitute caregivers: respite when family caregivers need a break.”
What to do with yourself, when you can get away
Respite may be used for caregivers to go on a vacation, visit family and friends, attend a group, a day-long retreat, or even an overnight retreat especially for family caregivers. Believe it or not, others recognize that family caregivers often experience financial struggles. There are free and low cost trips and retreats available.
You need flexible plans, because we all know that the life of a family caregiver can change in a moment in response to your loved one’s health challenges. If you schedule travel plans in advance check all policies in case you need to change or cancel your trip. Hotels often can be cancelled hours before check in. To avoid bitter disappointment, have a backup plan in case your getaway gets cancelled or postponed.
I tried vacationing with my Dad, which made for lovely experiences and memories but was certainly not a vacation for me. If that is your only option, be prepared for increased anxiety and disorientation from your loved one. Try to find hotels with guest services that will help you with luggage, have on-site meals, valet parking, and maybe even provide companion services so you can go for a swim or something. Having a balcony was nice, as I could sit outside while Dad napped.
Stay with a friend
Pick a friend that is easy to be with. You know what I mean – no walking on eggshells, no drama, and no need to keep up with his or her schedule. Particularly avoid friends who expect you to take care of them. Ahead of time, tell your friend about your needs. It is likely that you will sleep more than usual.
Find an inexpensive hotel around the block
One memorable winter during the years we cared for Dad, my husband and I were broke, exhausted, and came down with bronchitis. We needed a break to take care of ourselves, and we didn’t want to Dad to get sick too. Fortunately Dad’s caregiver was available to stay with him. We found a discounted hotel out on the highway, 20 minutes from home, with an attached inexpensive restaurant. Packing snacks, lunches, books and pj’s, off we went. Highlights of the weekend included sleeping late, taking naps, and soaking in the bathtub.
Road Scholar Caregiver Grants
For a nearly-free and more stimulating get-away, consider an adventure through Road Scholar. Road Scholar is the rebranding of Elderhostel. There are over 5,500 ‘learning adventures’ every year! Locations include the U.S. and 150 other countries, as well as cruises. Each trip includes both travel and learning.
Best of all, for family caregivers Road Scholar offers grants of up to $1300.00 toward a trip. Eligible recipients include “…primary unpaid caregiver providing daily care and support for an ill or disabled family member (spouse, parent, adult child, partner or sibling).” Recipients must be 50 or older, may not have taken a Road Scholar program in the last 2 years, and may be a current caregiver or the former caregiver of a loved one that passed away within the past 2 years. Learn more at Road Scholar Caregiver Grants
Retreats can by spiritual, religious, or secular, day long, weekends, or a week or more. Some retreat centers will offer specific programs open to the public that have group activities scheduled. Almost all retreat centers have room for individuals who simply want a peaceful place to stay for a while. You probably won’t need a car. Retreat centers generally offer inclusive room and board packages that are often less expensive than the average vacation travel packages.
Retreats specifically for family caregivers have become popular but are often difficult to find. I’m the program leader for “Giving Back to Caregivers” at Adelynrood Retreat and Conference Center in Massachusetts. From Friday through Sunday, caregivers enjoy a restful environment, good food, private rooms, lovely gardens, and more. Another retreat is offered by the Family Caregivers Alliance; you can learn more at Caregiver.org.
You will find a variety of retreats at these websites: www.retreatfinder.com, www.seekretreat.com, www.retreatsonline.com, www.retreatcenterdirectory.com, and more. “Find a retreat” is an effective search term.
Could you be a more calm and centered caregiver with regular opportunities for respite? What would you do if you had an hour, an afternoon, or even a day for yourself every week or so? Take a nap, going for a walk, visiting with a friend, or sitting alone in your home? Learn more at “Respite relief from compassion fatigue.”
What if you can’t leave home? Just a few moments of respite can be healing. Learn more at “Mini me-time for family caregivers.”
Is respite worth it?
Absolutely. Taking care of yourself positively impacts your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It benefits your loved one, as taking a break allows you to gain some much needed relaxation, rejuvenation, and resilience.
Take a break to focus on your Self. I imagine that your focus is most often on your loved one. It’s ok to invite your Self into back your life, but you might need to take a break from your caregiving routines in order to get to know your Self again.
Readers, I’d love to hear your travel stories and your challenges. Other readers will benefit from your experiences and wisdom. Please share/comment about your most successful respite vacations, your challenges, and your successes.
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