Episode 81: The Best Way to Hold on to Memories - for Caregivers

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Show Transcript

Time seems to run super slow and then too fast when we are caregiving. All of a sudden we find ourselves looking back at the year and not know where the time went. Maybe we mourn not being able to remember the moments we know we had with the ones we care for and can’t remember them because the stress and overwhelm were just too much to allow you to hold on to some of the good moments. 

Let’s talk about how we can remember our time with the one we care for.

The other day I was working on last week’s podcast episodes and I decided to look back at my pictures and see what I had taken when my husband was first diagnosed with cancer. I was hoping to find a picture from when we were in the hospital to stir up more memories for episode 80.

What I found was upsetting.

I realized that I had hardly taken any pictures for that whole entire year and a half and so as I looked back I couldn’t remember much. I know that we did some things together that were fun in spite of cancer. 

I don’t have pictures of my daughter. I don’t have pictures of my husband right after surgery or, now that I think of it, even before surgery. All of those memories were lost. I have memories in the form of stories some of which I have shared here with you. But the stories are tied to things that happened that were remarkable. 

I generally take a lot of pictures. Sometimes my family will make fun of me because I take pictures of things like a railing or a flower. But if I look back at any of those pictures, even if they are of random things, I can remember the place that I took it in which then brings on a flood of memories for that day. I’ll remember stupid jokes that I told. Things that we all laughed at and just in general what kind of day I had when that picture was taken. 

It hurt to realize that I had lost time. I had decided, probably since it was one of the worst times of my life, to not document it. If for some reason things did not go right with my husband‘s health and I were to have lost him I would have also lost memories of the last moments we had together. That is unbearable for me to think about. 

Now I know that I am not in a place and my family is not in a place where we are talking about loss right now. There isn’t a threat for my husband to become seriously ill and hospice is not part of his care plan. However, nothing is guaranteed in life. 

So to see that I have a dark hole in my picture feed reminds me that no matter what, I need to remember and document my days. Sometimes the days where I do absolutely nothing that seems important are the days that feel really good. I should have a picture that reminds me that I don’t have to have a big win to have a great day. Pictures don’t have to be just of the trips, car rides or games played. It doesn’t have to be the pictures of the holidays and the birthday cakes and blowing out the candles. 

I have this need to document my days. 

I went through a whole pandemic stuck in my house and I could have taken so many pictures just so that I could remember how boring and stressful it was. How else can I relay that information, those experiences, and that time to my grandchildren. 

I guess what I’m trying to get at is, how do you hold onto the memories that you make throughout the day? That is to say, if you actually make the time to notice the small moments that happen every day. When you look back on your years of caregiving is it all doctor’s visits and surgeries? Are the big wins all theirs or are some of them yours? Are you documenting your life with this person you have sacrificed so much to care for? If you are a little too burnout right now and can’t think of a reason to remember any of your caregiving years then can you be open to the possibility of having a short minute a day that might just be ok and make a mental note of it?

This realization that I had a black hole in my picture feed reminded me of a book I had just finished reading a book called Storyworthy by Mathew Dicks. This book is focused on learning how to tell stories. How to craft them and have a focus in telling them - which, to be honest, I can struggle with at times.  However, one of the chapters of that book was focused on the practice of writing down a memory each day. That way you can remember back and recall a story from that day. I couldn’t help to connect this to how this could be a useful tool for caregivers.  If you continue with this as a daily practice by the end of the year you would be able to look back on any day of the year to see and remember what you had done. 

I have always tried to do this, not with writing but with taking pictures. I have even used daily picture journaling apps on my phone over the years that reminded me each day to take a picture. I take pictures of things that stand out to me. They could be of my drive to work, my daughter’s smile, a picture of my husband and daughter holding hands while they’re walking, and sometimes of myself to catch the mood. 

The little things are what I like to take pictures of because those are the things that tell us about our lives. The big moments and memories are oftentimes what we like to remember. They are easier to remember. However, it is the small moments that really make us who we are.

I’m not always good at remembering things especially. A couple of weeks ago I couldn’t remember what I had done the Friday before. My watch told me that I walked 4 miles but I could not remember where I had gone. It wasn’t just me. My husband couldn’t remember and neither could my teenage daughter who’s brain is much younger than ours. While we were all trying to figure out what we had done less than four days ago my daughter pulled out her phone to see if she had taken a picture. Thankfully she had. We did something out of the ordinary and went to an outdoor festival. We should have remembered that we did that. It’s alarming to know that there are things that I am not able to remember that could be worth remembering. 

So what does this all mean? 

First, it means that I need to make it more of a priority to remember the little things each day. I would like to say that I would write everything down but I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen. It’s easier for me to take a picture. 

Now you might be saying I never do anything worth taking a picture of. My answer to that is, any time you wake up is a reason to take a picture. Things do not have to be big to be a win. Just waking up with our loved one. Just being alive each day is a win and it’s a gift. 

Why do we feel like we need to have a big reason to document our day? 

I think part of it is because as caregivers we don’t understand our worth. We don’t think that what we do is important. We feel this way because we don’t get that message from the people around us. We don’t get the outpouring of help that we always thought that we would have. Our jobs and businesses around us and the people that are supposed to have support services for us don’t automatically make it easy for us to access their support. Maybe people act as if you are lucky to be able to stay at home every day if that is the type of caregiving you give. 

I’m here to tell you that what you do does matter and documenting your day is one way for you to show to yourself and to anyone around you that what you do is extremely important and is necessary. I’m not saying that you need to walk around taking selfies, although there is a place for that in working on your self-acceptance and I can share that with you if you just DM me or send me an email. 

But you don’t ever have to take a picture of yourself if you don’t want to. However, there are things that you can take pictures of each day that can remind you of that day. 

You might say every day is the same. Why should I document a day that is no different than the one before and the one coming? Fine! Find a tree outside your window or simply just stand in your door or at a window and take a picture of the outdoors from the same vantage point every single day. You’ll see that each day is not the same. It’s just that you need a little reminder that you are living and life is change. 

I have some big changes coming up in the near future. I’m very sensitive to documenting time because of it. I want to remember this year because it might not ever be the same again. They’re just good changes and progressions in life that we should all be having. It just makes me sad to know that if I don’t take a small moment to take a picture each day there could be a sweet or special moment that I will never remember. 

If you are able to document your days you will always have a way to look back at moments that might be more special to you as you remember them. There are so many times I have taken a picture and thought nothing of it but looking back at it months later find that it warms my heart because it reminds me of that day. 

Pictures don’t always have to be happy ones. They can be pictures of…

  • tears, 
  • of hospital beds, 
  • of holding hands at the end. 

Think about being able to look back at your last year and be able to remember…

  • The happy times, 
  • the sad times, 
  • the times you had to be strong and advocate for the person you care for, 
  • the times you felt like you couldn’t take anymore but still kept moving forward, 
  • the times you sat with them during chemo,
  • or by their bed after surgeries, 
  • the times you waited outside while they had CT scans and MRIs done, 
  • the times you just didn’t know what tomorrow was going to look like and you were worried if your life would be forever changed. 

We should document those times.

Pictures or writing down memories don’t have to be reserved for holidays or birthdays. Or maybe you didn’t take pictures even then because you were just not in the mood to celebrate that year.

I understand how difficult it is to worry that this will be the last birthday the last holiday the last time they walked down the sideways walk holding your daughter's hand. Wouldn’t you rather have a reminder of how hard things were so you can be grateful for the days that just feel OK and to give you strength when you feel that you can’t go any further? I would rather have pictures of heartache and pain alongside the good moments so that I remember why I am a caregiver on days that feel hard. 

To have pictures to help you get through those moments where you are so overwhelmed with what life is handing you or when you feel stuck and frozen. Do you have pictures that will make you smile and laugh at what you remember was happening at that one moment? The ones that make you remember that horrible snowstorm and the snow you brought in to throw at them? 

Those moments are priceless and sometimes we can’t re-create them with the people that were there. So give it a try. We all have our phones with us. Maybe taking a picture every day is a big ask but how about once a week or a few times a month. The best part is it requires you to be a little more mindful about your day and will force you to notice some sweet moments you otherwise would have walked right past. Remember sometimes we need to tell the stories to keep the memories alive.

If you do try taking a picture I would love to see your favorite ones. Feel free to send them in an email to [email protected] and share the story with me. You can find all the ways to find me, links to anything mentioned in this episode, and more caregiver support at www.loveyourcaregivinglife.com 

If you'd like to learn more about the book Storyworthy, by Mathew Dicks you can find it here.

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