Monday, 1 August 2016

Top tips for holidays

I've just returned from five weeks overseas. Our big overseas holiday, in the planning for almost a year.
Naturally, I was excited as could be. But as our departure date got closer I became increasingly worried. What started as a vague feeling of unease gradually turned to anticipatory guilt.

How would Mum cope? No Saturday outings for five whole weeks. No one picking up when she phoned my house. No one dropping by to sort things when she became confused, bored or stuck.

It wasn't like I was the only family member who could help. But I'm definitely the one she relies on.
It became obvious I had developed a bad case of 'the indispensibles' - a chronic condition where the sufferer believes they are the only person in the entire world who can meet the needs of a particular person or situation.
As soon as I realised that, things improved. And with a bit of trial and error I came up with some things that actually worked.

Here they are - my top tips for carers who are taking a holiday.

1. Keep the run-up short
I noticed early on that as soon as anyone made reference to the impending family holiday, Mum became anxious. So I stopped mentioning it. Whenever Mum brought it up I told her it was ages away. That really helped - Mum was reassured. She stopped worrying and eventually forgot all about it. I didn't revisit the subject until a few days before our departure. That strategy saved months of unnecessary angst.

2. Simplify the info
First time round, I got this completely wrong, printing off our itinerary and giving it to Mum. "It's extremely complicated," she said, struggling through the two page document. So I binned it and started started again, from scratch.
What does Mum need to know? Who was going on holiday. When we were leaving. What else? The countries we were visiting. The date of our return. That was all.
I typed it up in extra large font and printed it out. Then I taped it to the wall next to the wardrobe. By the time I got back it was still kicking round her room. Mum had obviously been looking at it.

3. Accept all offers of help
As our holiday got nearer, friends and family started asking what was happening with Mum. When my Australia-based sister asked what she could do to help, I suggested she pop over for a few days. Friends of mine, who Mum has known for years, offered outings and afternoon teas. My lovely sister-in-law told me she'd like to take Mum out on a couple of days.  I accepted all offers graciously, on my mother's behalf. And to make sure Mum got the most benefit from all this generosity, I put together an itinerary that covered all five Saturdays. For me, the relief was huge. And Mum had a wonderful time with all her new visitors.

4. Let the staff know
Even with the itinerary posted to the wall, Mum was bound to wonder where I'd gone. So I talked to as many staff as I could, telling them what was happening. I emailed the rest home manager and copied in the head nurse. When I got back I was greeted with hugs all round. Mum's carers knew exactly where I'd been. And so did Mum.

5. Send regular updates 
I gave up on postcards a while back. First there's the inevitable time lag. If it's a short trip, by the time the postcard arrives, I'm already back. In the unlikely event that they arrive in time, without me to read them to her, the postcards are put aside or pinned to the noticeboard never to be read again.  Instead, this trip I sent Mum a series of emails. I addressed them to staff who printed them out and handed them to Mum. The news was fresh, immediate and able to be read and reread. I aimed to do one every three or four days but only managed a total of five. Not too bad - one a week.

"Five weeks?!" said Mum when I told her I was going away. "I doubt I'll be alive when you're back."

When we finally arrive at Wellington airport, my mother is part of a noisy welcoming party. There she is, right in the thick of it all, smiling and crying. "So lovely to see you all," she says, kissing and hugging the grandchildren. "Safely back."

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