When my husband Greg received a stage four cancer diagnosis, my role went from that of being a wife, mom and part-time physical therapist to also include caretaker.
While I was initially fearful, not knowing what that journey was going to entail, I knew that God loved me, and He had the best in mind for our family. I was confident that God would take care of us and provide everything we would need to get through this journey together.
After Greg’s diagnosis, he did not slow down. He became passionate about saying “yes” to whatever God called him to do. It was incredible and I often found myself in awe of what God was doing through him.
But caring for Greg and my family took its toll on me. I was so focused on meeting his physical and emotional needs, that I neglected to care for my own self.
My “bucket” slowly depleted.
I realized I was running on empty on Valentine’s Day after making an illegal left turn on my way home from picking up Greg’s favorite food. As I saw the flashing police car lights, I pulled over to the side of the road only to realize I couldn’t find the standard information I needed to give to the officer. The stress of it all caused me to break down in tears. Apparently the officer thought I was in need of more than a listening ear and he called an ambulance! Luckily, another officer came to the scene, and she was able to understand my distress. Three tickets later, I was eventually able to get home.
Clearly, I was at my wit’s end.
I quickly learned that as a caregiver, I was responsible for not only caring for my husband, but also myself. I was no good to Greg if I was emotionally depleted.
For individuals who are facing the weight of caring for a loved one, I want to encourage you by sharing five things I learned about also caring for yourself:
- Know what fills your bucket. For me it was things like lunch with friends, trips away to the beach and the mountains, creating beautiful home environments (while sticking to a budget!), and hosting friends and family in our home.
- Ask people to pray for you. I strongly believe in the power of prayer. Greg would stop in the middle of a grocery store aisle and pray when the spirit moved him. Just as your loved one needs prayer, so do you. Don’t hesitate to ask for spiritual strength.
- Seek wise counsel. Know that to take care of those in need you have to make sure you keep yourself healthy and stable. The entire family suffers during tough times, but it is ok to seek the help of a professional. Even though as a physical therapist I was trained in healthcare, I wasn’t trained in the role of caregiver. Greg and I sought out a professional counselor after my Valentine’s Day adventure, and it was one of the best things I could have done for myself.
- Life is found and renewed when you give. It is important to make sure you are serving and giving to others. There is so much going on in the world, don’t just focus on your immediate situation. It helps you find new meaning and brings life back to your weariness.
- You are not a superhero. As much as I wanted to be Wonder Woman, I wasn’t. Make sure to give yourself some grace. You cannot and should not do this by yourself. Jesus will provide for you when you hit the wall and can’t do it on your own anymore; in fact, He doesn’t want you to do that. He provides a network of friends and family to share His love with you. Lean on those who want to help you share your burden. You are not alone in this battle!
In his book, “Out of the Blue,” Greg said, “Too much selflessness is not healthy for anyone on any level. If we do not keep our buckets filled, serving others is unsustainable.”
I want to encourage anyone facing life’s battles to stand strong and be aware of the need to fill your bucket. Take the time to list out what makes you fulfilled and then invest in these things on a regular basis. It won’t just do you some good, it benefits all of those you love as well and makes you a better caregiver.
Tracey Murtha is wife to the late Greg Murtha, co-founder of the Halftime Institute and author of “Out of the Blue; the Unexpected Adventure of Life Interrupted.”