Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why I do this...

A dear friend of mine works part-time at a grocery store as a cashier, and recently a woman came through my friend's line who has just begun taking care of her mom. The woman was overwhelmed with all of the newness and details of the situation, as I remember being when I began this journey a few years ago. My cashier friend shared a little about my story with this woman and encouraged her to email me to talk and get some support. The woman wrote down her email address so I could get in touch and I sent her a note the next day. I hope she emails me back and lets me know how she's doing.

Another friend of mine has just begun caring for her mom this past year. She moved her mom into her home and now is learning how to take care of a parent with Parkinson's. Sometimes it just helps to look someone in the face and hear them tell you how they're doing because their words mirror your experience. You know you're not alone and that's really, really important. My friend struggles with some of the exact same feelings and situations that I do. She gets it, and sometimes we hug each other and don't even have to say a word. There's just a connection because our lives are on similiar paths.

My story in a (sort-of) nutshell: I became the caregiver for my mom about 2 1/2 years ago. I'm an only child and was born and raised in central Florida to great parents. Daddy and Mama were married 55 years when Daddy passed away in 2005. They were originally from north Florida/south Georgia, and all our extended family was up there. My husband, parents, and I were the only part of our family that lived in central Florida when my father became ill.

My father developed Parkinson's and then dementia (a related problem with many Parkinson's patients), and he became violent toward my mother, whom he adored. Mama didn't know what to do and I became the main decision-maker for Daddy's care until his death. Dad had to be put into a nursing home just for Mama's safety, so we had a lot of anger issues to deal with, along with a lot of inappropriate behavior. I was completely overwhelmed when all this began in early 2005, and that's when I found out how much being part of a support group of some kind could help me. Knowing my feelings weren't unusual and knowing lots of people were "out there" going through the same things helped me tremendously. I can share my thoughts/feelings and know those other caregivers understand, even if non-caregivers can't.

I began blogging after my father died and we moved Mama in with us. My mom is almost 84 and has osteoporosis and the beginnings of dementia. I tried to let her live in her own home but she really is not able to take care of herself, though she believes she can. She's a tough combination of sweet, stubborn, and independent. She became ill and ended up breaking an arm one morning when she became dizzy and fell. She had just assured me on the phone that she was "fine," but I learned later that she was actually quite dehydrated and was getting much worse. She just didn't understand what was happening to her because she's always been blessed with very good health.

Having Mama live with my husband and me is a true challenge and some days it's good and some days it's not so great. It took us about 18 months to get a comfortable pattern established. Blogging helps me not only reach out to others, but hopefully to encourage, add some humor to someone's day, and also to examine my own feelings and hopefully understand why I'm feeling whatever I am. Not many of us are equipped to become caregivers to our parents, so this is an understanding my husband and I have had to acquire, and the process is bumpy sometimes. At other times, it's just plain stressful, particularly in the beginning months.

I'm also mom to a wonderful nurse (daughter age 22), grandma to her 2-year-old sweetie, and mom to a 20-year-old Marine who is deployed to Afghanistan. I specialize in what I call "Marine Mom hugs," because when we're up at the base (Lejeune in NC) for our son's homecomings or deployments, all of the moms are bear-hugging all of the young Marines around us because often their own families aren't there for various reasons. So we try to show these young men how much we appreciate and honor them, and we hug them when their own moms can't and know that someone else will hug ours when we're not there.

I'm glad I can do this for my mom and I've always known I'd take care of my parents eventually. As an only child from a close-knit family, it was inevitable. I'm glad my folks lived into their eighties on their own and had a rich, long life together. But someone commented here recently that there's a significant difference between helping your elderly parent and helping your children. They pointed out that with our children, we teach them and look forward to them learning and developing skills so that they eventually become independent. It's a joy to watch children grow and mature. With our elderly parents, however, illness and time steals away their long-held independence and they become less and less able to take care of themselves. It's a reverse process, and it can be sad and overwhelming, particularly if you're responsible to help care for that parent.

If you're in this situation, or about to be, you're the person I really want to try to encourage. If I could see you face to face, I'd say "Hello," give you a big hug, and let you know I'm here if you'd like to talk about things now or later on. This is the kind of journey that goes better with friends to help you cope, or laugh, or sort things out, or pass the tissues when you cry along the way. I have friends who do the same for me. If I can help ease your situation at all, even for a moment, then that's my heart's desire.

If you're just beginning your caregiving journey or you've been at it a while, please post here and let us know how you're doing. What works for you? What's not working? How are you coping? If you have some thoughts and suggestions to share, then someone else will be encouraged and helped by reading them. I know this is an ongoing learning process. My mom is in pretty good shape for the time being and her older sisters are still doing well. They're almost 89 and almost 99, so we expect to have mom with us for a long time.

This isn't a sprint--it's a marathon. Taking care of my own stress levels is really critical for my own health, my husband's sake, and our family's well-being. I'd like to not only be a healthy, happy daughter for a long time, but I'd like to be a healthy, happy wife, mom, and grandmom, too.

I believe we can do these things successfully, but it takes work and information and support. "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken," according to Ecclesiastes 4:12. We might not have time (or proximity) to meet for coffee in real life, but we can encourage one another here. And I can keep you in my prayers, too. I continually ask God for strength and wisdom to do the task He's given, so that I can honor and care for Mama plus take care of my family and myself. But some days take a lot more prayer. :-D

Write me when you can. I'd love to hear how you're doing.

Blessings, and Marine Mom hugs,
Caregiver at Home

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