Caregiving, by Default

I never saw myself in the role of caregiver.

Never trained as a nurse. Never watched my parents care for their parents.

And if I’m to be truly honest, I don’t have a caregiver’s personality. I’m more selfish than that. And, as a creative person, I protect my psyche and guard my time with a certain fierceness.

I came home two decades ago, when Domer was a baby. It was supposed to be temporary, a chance to get back on my feet after a divorce.

When I got a full time job, I offered to leave and get a place of our own.

‘It would kill your daddy if y’all left,’ Mama told me.

Daddy agreed. ‘Save your money,’ he advised. ‘Your boy needs a real family.’

So we stayed.

About the time Domer entered high school, Daddy was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. And because Daddy had to travel some distance away for his treatments, Domer and I pretty much fended for ourselves for long stretches at a time.

Like living on our own.

Still, we both helped Mama care for Daddy, doing whatever we could to make his time more pleasant.

Then Daddy died and Domer went off to college, leaving me with one thought — Now, it’s time to leave.

But I couldn’t. Mama needed me.

Most of her life had been wrapped around my dad. With him gone, she was a woman at loose ends. Her friends were couples; her siblings slowly died off, and she found herself with one medical issue following another.

She doesn’t drive; I became her chauffeur. She loves to read, giving me small blocks of time to myself.

We’ve made it work, though it hasn’t been easy or entirely peaceful. Truth be told, she’s bucking for sainthood by putting up with me!

And while she definitely doesn’t want to go to “a home,” I’ve been adamant that I won’t do certain things — bathing her, for instance.

Yet she’s starting to show (and feel) her age. She’s more frail now and sometimes has trouble hearing me. Her doctor, financial, and personal appointments interrupt my train of thought too often.

But her mind is sharp and she’s mobile.

And neither of us will pass this way again. So it seems fitting to do what’s feasible while we still have each other, don’t you agree?

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20 thoughts on “Caregiving, by Default

  1. It does seem fitting. I never saw myself in that caregiver role either but when Chris’s dad fell too ill to really care for himself and Chris’s adult brother with Down Syndrome I was able to step in—one of the beauties of my life of non work right now. I was able to do it and happy to although I did and saw things I never dreamed I would do or see. It was not always easy but it was an honor to be able to serve a man who counted me as a daughter and had done so much for us over the years. Keep doing what you can for as long as you can. ANd then you can say “no regrets”. Because in the end that is the goal. Love this post and a bit of insight into your life! Thanks for sharing from your heart.

    • Ah, Beth Ann, your words warm my heart. Yes, it’s not easy. One expects to care for one’s children, but caring for one’s parents is like treading on foreign soil. Thank you for your advice. I suspect being able to honestly say “no regrets” will ease the pain, both now and later. And thanks for understanding how HARD it was to write this one!

  2. It’s not just fitting, it will become one of the true treasures of your life. You’ll never regret it – although it may take some time to fully understand all the implications of what you’re doing.

    When my aunt called me and said, “I’m selling the house now that your uncle is gone, and your mom is going to have to come live with you,” I thought my life was over. For that matter, mom thought hers was over, too. She was here in Texas with me for around 15 years – in her own apartment, but still, right next door. I was a full-time caregiver until she died at age 93. I was determined that she wasn’t going into a home.

    Was it easy? Sometimes, I thought I’d slit my wrists. Was it funny as can be? Sometimes, yes – especially the day she locked me out of her house on Easter.
    Was it a drain on my creative energies? You bet. But I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

    I don’t think you were reading my stuff when I wrote Promises Made, Promises Kept. I just re-read it, and am glad all over again that I did what I did.

    • Linda, thank you so much for the reassurance. It’s like lemonade on a hot day, receiving encouragement from someone who’s been there done that!

      What a beautiful post you’d written about your dad and the importance of keeping promises made. No, I hadn’t read that one before, and yes, it means more now that I’m immersed in this role.

      Fortunately, I’ve never once felt like slitting my wrists, but that doesn’t mean my time isn’t coming. I try to look on the bright side, but experience tells me most aging folks ride a downhill slide to the end. I totally appreciate your statement that it was a “drain on your creative energies,” though, and often fret at the time that’s passing with my work left undone. Perhaps God in His Wisdom will have mercy and grant me a long, healthy life to accomplish the things I want to!

  3. I don’t think many plan to be a caregiver of a parent but fall into it. It’s one of those things when people weigh the options as you have and pick the choice best for all. You know you’re doing all you can for her and that will give you reassurance later if you wonder if you made the right decision.

    • With people generally living longer these days, it’s critical that we have a plan in place — something OTHER than simply saying, I don’t want to go into a home. My parents both put their last living parent into a home. They were living far away and didn’t want to uproot them by bringing them to live with us. That’s the example I was given. So to assume the caregiver’s role for me is like walking on ice in the dark — something I’m completely unfamiliar with. I’ve known others who have had to do this sort of thing, and it’s not been easy. Rewarding? Maybe. Much later, though!

  4. I think it’s a good idea to explore options, talk about possibilities, include other family members when possible and mix compassion with realism. My mother cared for both of her parents and we all helped with an aunt. I would drop everything to take care of my parents and I am very grateful they have a very clear plan of what they want and have financially funded everything. More important we have talked openly. I do know (having watched my mother’s sister suffer with regret) that regret is not a part of my plan. Growing old is not for sissies…for any of us.

    • Katybeth, I’m just blessed that Mama hasn’t really needed a great deal of “care” to date. I mean, she’s financially able to hire a full-time nurse, should that become a necessity. And I’ve kind of insisted she try to group her appointments, rather than interrupting my work every single day. My only sibling is far away, but I know I could call her and she’d appear in a heartbeat, ready and willing to help shoulder the responsibility. I don’t guess we get to choose what befalls us in old age, but you’re right — it sure isn’t for sissies!

  5. Very honest post, Debbie. And if we’re ALL honest with ourselves, we would said the same thing. We never think the day will come when we (the child) become the caregiver to the parent. It seems as though the roles switch.

    And it’s as you so beautifully shared…

    “And neither of us will pass this way again. So it seems fitting to do what’s feasible while we still have each other, don’t you agree?”

    Yes, I agree.

    Because I lived far from my mother, when she was diagnosed with cancer last year, my role as a caregiver was to support her emotionally and spiritually via telephone. My brother was the caregiver, physically. We each played different roles, but each one was of great value to my mother.

    Wonderful post, my friend!
    X

    • I’m sure BOTH you and your brother were a comfort to your mom during her illness, Ron. Distance prevents us from doing all we’d like to do sometimes, but how blessed she was that your brother was nearby!
      You’re so right, my friend. It’s discombobulating when the “child” must become the “parent” and tend to a new role. And if, like me, you didn’t see that modeled by your parents, you’re really on shaky ground. Fortunately, today, there are lots of resources for advice and support — it’s often time-consuming to ferret them out, but I think it’s worse to try going it solo.
      Thanks for empathizing, Ron, and have a SUPER weekend!

  6. Debbie, this post resonates with me. It reminds me of the year the Son and I spent caring for my father. It was a lot of work, I won’t lie to you, but so gratifying! You will not regret it. You will look back at the memories you are making and they are what will sustain you when your mother is physically gone. You are a wonderful human being and daughter. The good Lord will reward you! Happy New Year, my friend! :)

    • You set a wonderful example for you son, Bella — kids have to be taught to be selfless and considerate. I’m sure your father was grateful to be surrounded by family, people he could trust. So much better than an impersonal home, don’t you agree?
      I don’t know if I’m “wonderful” or not. So many times, I feel I grouse and complain, when I should be more kind. It is what it is, I guess. As to a reward, well, that works for me, heehee! Happy 2014, my dear!

  7. You did what you had to do. Imagine how bad you’d feel if you hadn’t. Happy New Year, Debbie. This is the year they find a cure for aging. I just know it. I can feel it in my semi-dense bones. ;)

    • I’m sure if you feel a cure is near, you must be right, Monica! I only hope the “cure” isn’t a pill for pain and a raft to float us all out to sea, where we’ll die an untimely death! Thanks for reminding me how bad I’d feel if I hadn’t stepped up — you’re right, of course!

  8. Oh, this did me so good to read, Debbie! I often have very selfish thoughts and feelings about helping care for my parents, especially when Mom asks for my help AGAIN, while saying she thought about asking one of my brothers, but, “You know how they are.” And I don’t even live with them! A friend recently complimented me for all I do to care for my parents. I said I didn’t deserve the compliment because I don’t always do things with a glad heart. I was told, “No one does these things with a glad heart. Watching your parents grow old and weak is never fun. Who could be glad? You’re still doing a good thing by caring for them.” That made me feel better. Hope it does you too.

    • What a wise and wonderful friend you have, Terri, and yes, the comment DID make me feel better. I guess I’ll never understand how aging parents feel they have the “right” to expect ALL the help to come from one “child” while the others get off scot-free. Not that my sister hasn’t offered, either. I think if it were me, I’d be grateful for whatever help anyone volunteered, regardless if they did things the way I used to do them. Oh, well, we do what we can — grudgingly, at times, but maybe there’s still graces to be received in spite of our attitudes!!

  9. I can understand your reluctance to do certain things when caring for your mom. I don’t like to think about that, though aging is inevitable. I think it’s great you’ve lived with them and been able to help them throughout the years – you won’t have a guilty conscience that would likely be there had you put her in a nursing home.

    My grandma lived with my parents for the last couple years of her life (after my grandpa died.) My parents did most of the work (which was exhausting…Alzheimer’s can be difficult) but when they couldn’t do it all themselves anymore, they had an aide come in a few times a week for a few hours. I believe they took care of bathing…as far as I know my parents didn’t have to do that. However, my normally modest grandma took to not covering herself up and I think my dad is still scarred from what he saw! It’s still so much fun to tease him about that and watch him turn all kinds of red :)

    Anyway, the aide took some of the burden off. Perhaps you can find such a person?

    • Well, Mama’s not to that point yet — thankfully! — but if that time should come, yes, she’s definitely agreeable to something like that, Janna. She’s very modest, too, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want a daughter bathing her! Your poor dad — I can just imagine how awful he must have felt, knowing that he was doing the right thing by your grandma, but…. ;)
      Thanks for the kind and considerate words, as well as sharing your experience. You’re blessed to have had such good examples in your parents, who I’m sure didn’t want to put grandma in a home!

  10. I agree with you 100%
    My mom went to heaven 4 years ago and the day she passed my day begged me and my husband to move in with him so we gave up our apartment and moved into one room in his house.

    That alone was a shock to my system! It was VERY difficult give up my privacy. Then dealing with my father and all the reasons why I left home for at an early age….all came flooding back. Then dealing with his medications, all meals, and all his affairs was extra pressure. Then we had hurricane Sandy and he wouldn’t listen to me and he got ripped off by contractors.

    This has been very trying…but…I know this is what I needed to do and I’ve found my peace in the midst of it all. My father has gotten to really know the real me and although he has not showed me any affection still to this day I feel in my heart he does care for me. I had a 1997 beat up Toyota Camry and 2 months ago he bought me a 2007 Toyota Camry to my shock and surprise. I never thought I would be living here and while growing up… I never thought about taking care of my parents….but it happened. I feel honored in doing so and I’m doing this with a happy willing heart. It’s for a season as my dad is 88 years old. I live by this scripture for this situation…. Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

    One day it will be my turn to need help. I’ve been looking over my 6 kids and wondering will any of them will be willing to care for me when the time comes. I try to put these thoughts in the back of my mind for now. I feel what we do for others will bless us in our lives so right now I thank God for the blessings He has bestowed on me today which is My life, my husband and my dad and His daily care of me and my family.

    God bless you Deb for you love and care for your mom. May the Lord give you continued strength, patience and courage to be that special daughter for your mom. In Jesus name.

    • Tonya, bless you for your kind and comforting words — it means a lot, knowing that you’re walking a similar path and struggling at times, just as I do. Your dad, I’m sure, is grateful to have you and your husband staying with him. Too often, our men tend to hold their emotions (even the good ones!) in check — your heart will have to feel what he’s unable to express. I’ll bet your mama is looking down and smiling right now, knowing you’re doing what she’s unable to do!!

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