This post was originally published here

young hand handing dandelion to older looking hand

From the time I was a little girl, I was taught to take care of others. I watched my parents offer help and support to others. I learned in church to be the “Good Samaritan.”  All the jobs I have had, and currently have, serve others, including caring and supporting my 94-year-young dad with dementia. It’s a season in my life that began nine years ago as I moved back to St. Louis to care for both elderly parents whose health was declining.

My favorite question to ask women is, “What do you do to take care of you?”  Most of them respond with this one-word answer, “Nothing.”  As a woman whose roles have included mom, daughter, sister, wife, Bible study leader, and coach, my life has been, and is, taking care of others. During a seminar exercise I was asked, “What do you do for fun?” And “What do you do for you?” I really couldn’t come up with an answer, just like many other women. How would you answer these two questions?

Visualize this – you have a tall, refreshing glass of water, filled to the brim. (One that would be quite welcome by many during this extreme heatwave we are experiencing!) One person after another pass by you so thirsty that in your selflessness you give each one a drink. Sometime later you find yourself parched and in need. The glass is empty. Now what?

For a long time, I thought it was selfish to pay attention to myself. Well, I’m here to tell you from experience, it is essential and selfless to give to yourself.  By not taking care of me, I cannot give my best to others. Beliefs of selfishness invariably stem from a lack of self-worth. What happens to you when you have nothing more to give?

I learned this the hard way a couple of weeks ago when I found myself overwhelmed and totally depleted. Unless I hire someone, or call on neighbors and friends for help, I’m here with dad 24/7. When my coach learned that I would now be caring and supporting my dad around the clock, she told me that I need to give myself at least 3 hours a week away from the house. I thought, “I don’t need that every week.”

That’s what I get for thinking. My coach was right, and after following her advice I now understand the value and benefit of getting away. After much conflict in my mind over selfish vs selfless, I accepted the fact that it would not be selfish to care for me. So, the hospice team and I arranged for a week of respite care so I could take time off.

Don’t be selfish, be selfless. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take care of you. During my week of respite, I was able to RESET, REALIGN and REMEMBER. My reward for being selfless? RENEWAL.