Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Family Caregiving

I read several caregiving blogs because I am encouraged by them and I also learn a lot of new ideas I can use to help Mama. Mama is still in pretty good health overall, and right now our primary level of care concerns mostly making sure she's secure, eats well, and has whatever daily help she needs. That may be in the form of reading a business letter she's not quite able to understand, taking her to a doctor's appointment, opening a jar, or noticing changes that affect her in some way. It's just an all-encompassing umbrella of care, and it's like a plate of spaghetti--it winds in and around all aspects of our lives. If you grab a single piece of spaghetti, you don't know where exactly it'll wind up.

After living with Mama for three years and having taken care of Daddy during the last months of his life, there's just a sense that develops for what's happening due to normal aging, and what's different. When we begin to notice ever-so-slight changes in our loved-one's ability to comprehend and understand events around them, we pay attention. The changes may be miniscule and just a signal of things brewing, or they may be a little more severe and mark an immediate change that's needed. It has taken me time to learn this, but caregiving in our home has become just a gentle ebb and flow of daily life that includes watching and assessing quietly, without being obtrusive or frightening our loved one. It takes a lot of thought and tact, which I continually work on (the tact part).

I say all this for two reasons. One is that if I'm not thoughtful and tactful, I can end up in the woodshed because I inadvertently offend my very independent mom ("Mama, you need some help with such-and-such because I noticed..." versus a gentle "Mama, is there anything you need me to do today?") I have to guide the conversation to the subject requiring discussion, but I have to make sure I show Mama I'm not trying to treat her like a kid--otherwise, it's definitely the woodshed for this kid!

The second reason is that my mom-in-law has just experienced a series of TIA's and my dear sis-in-law is stepping in to help her mom. Some of the things my husband and I see with his mom, we have already seen with my father, who had a similar circumstance in his last year. The experiences we've been through help us notice what's "normal" because of aging or reaction to illness, and what's truly a new, ongoing problem brought on by those illnesses. My heart hurts to see my mom-in-law go through this, because Daddy's struggles are still fresh in my mind. Seeing an elderly loved one struggle with new and frustrating limitations is hard, and I wish none of us had to experience it.

If you do end up with caregiving responsibilities, I encourage you to read and connect with others who are in your shoes. It just helps to know others understand, and truly those who have walked in the same shoes, or still are, can share with you their ideas for help. Sometimes just receiving their comfort, or giving yours, is all that is needed. Empathy helps tremendously. Plug in somewhere, either through a group in your community or an online group. I've done both, and both are effective for alleviating feelings of caregiver burnout. Be good to yourself as you take care of someone else.

One blog I read regularly is:

I hope it encourages you, too.

Caregiver at Home


  1. Thanks, Joan, I will check out that link.

    I have found that with my mother-in-law I also need to be careful how I address things. I can hurt her feelings without thinking. When I walk into her room and start picking up or cleaning, it makes her feel bad, when I only meant to help her out. Yet it has to be done, and she doesn't have the energy any more (the assisted living place cleans, but I mean just everyday pick-ups or washing her coffee cup, etc.) So it's hard sometimes to know what to do.

    She wants to pay me to do her laundry, when it is only an extra load or two and no big deal. Sometimes I gather her laundry or bring it back when she's not in her room just so we don't have that conversation yet again. I did come up with a sufficient answer one time, though: I said, "When I used to come visit you, if I had offered to pay you for doing laundry at your house, what would you have said?" And she said, "The same thing you're saying now."

  2. Oh, Barbara, I definitely hear you. My mom is a very independent Depression-era baby who is used to taking care of her own needs and being the caregiver herself. She was Daddy's main caregiver for decades and now that the tables are turned and she requires help, she finds herself in unfamiliar and unwelcome waters. My mom-in-law is also struggling with the help my sis-in-law provides. It seems that the main struggle for both of these women is having to admit that they can't be independent any longer. Their spirits still say yes, but their minds and/or bodies say no. I can't imagine how that feels, but it seems to be key to both situations. Perhaps your mom-in-law is struggling with this, too.

    I remember when I had two c-sections many years ago and needed help for a few days afterward. I was thankful for the help (my mom and mom-in-law), but knowing it was short-term was a good thing. I appreciated the help, I just wanted to be back on my feet and able to do for myself. I didn't want help; I was used to being independent and preferred it. Knowing it was temporary was important to me.

    It's not a great comparison, but it helps me sort of "get it" when thinking about my elderly loved-ones. They need help, but they don't want it. In their case, it signals something permanent, where in my case it was something I could grin and bear because it was temporary.

    Just keep being sensitive, as you described, Barbara. One thing I've learned during all this is to not take anything personally. It's not that they're frustrated with me, necessarily--it's that they're frustrated with their situation. Sometimes they'll lash out at me as a result, but they would feel the same no matter who was there to help. I'm glad it can be someone close to them who really cares how they're doing.

    Best wishes as you experience this "season" of caregiving. Thank you for sharing. Hopefully, with time, a comfortable routine will emerge for you both.