#TestimonyTues - Running on Empty: Running defeats caregiver burnout
June 17, 2014
By: Marilyn Reed, Member of BGR! Jackson, MS
I did my first 5K race June 2012. This race stands out in my mind not because it was my first 5K but because it was Father’s Day Weekend. As a self-described “daddy’s girl”, Father’s Day is a major holiday for me.
I will run the same race this upcoming Father’s Day weekend. This Father’s Day will be drastically different because it is the first one without my father.
My father went to heaven after a lengthy illness on February 7, 2014. My sister and I were my father’s caregivers for nearly a decade. Interestingly enough, it was the year that I started to run that my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As my running journey began, he embarked on a passage of sickness.
Willie Reed was the most amazing person. He was an honorable man who loved his family. We were his world, and he was ours. He worked hard, made numerous sacrifices for his family, and provided for us in the best way possible. Throughout my life, I am sure I gave my father one or two reasons to be disappointed in me. For the most part, however, I am confident he was always proud of me. When I started running, he was shocked but impressed that his totally “non-athletic” daughter was participating in a sport.
As I researched how to best care for my father, I learned that it was just as important, as a caregiver that I take care of myself. For me, this translated into running, working out, and eating properly. Basically, I had to be consistent.
During my weekends with my father, I would run at least three miles before the sun rose. During this time on the pavement, I was able to think clearly, hear from God and reflect. When my time on the asphalt came to an end, I would take off my running shoes and put on my pink and green caregiver cape. I would spend the remainder of the day, providing round-the-clock care for the man who had always taken care of me
As time progressed, my mileage increased while my father’s health decreased---drastically. My father was in the hospital from the fall of 2013 until he transitioned.
During my stints at the hospital, I would hit the walking trail. The crisp air and sweat gave me a clear head and fresh attitude which helped me better transact with the physicians, therapists and nurses. A strong presence of mind helped me demand and receive the best care possible for my dad from start to finish.
As the temperatures dropped to the low 30s (that’s really cold in Mississippi), the rehabilitation staff at the hospital allowed me to use the facility’s treadmill and elliptical machines. These workouts were a lifesaver for me. Running does so much more than reduce body weight. Keeping your endorphin levels up prevents depression, keeps you focused and reduces stress. Mental health professionals indicate this is vitaly important when providing end of life care for a family member.
It’s been four months since my dad died. I have not felt like running very much. To be honest, I have not felt like running at all. Grief is difficult, and there is no easy way around it. You just have to go through it.
Support groups suggest that honoring the lives of loved ones does help ease the sting of death. So, I have decided to continue my Father’s Day tradition and participate in the 5K. I am not trying to PR or place in my age category. I am just going to give it my very best. After all, that is what my dad always gave me---the very best.