I’ve been a long-distance caregiver since 2000 for my father, mother and now my nearly (happy birthday next week) 93-year-old mother-in-law. Talk about continuing education and on-the-job experience! I say with absolutely no pleasure, I know a lot about ailing parents.
You might know what kind of caregiver you are and how you want to be treated, but have you thought about what it might be like for your family or friends when the tables are turned?
Here is a thought for readers, along with my personal plan:
Decide what kind of care recipient you want to be. Of course, what happens to you, and how you handle it, may be out of your control (dementia, a serious illness or unbearable pain). If I can call the shots, however, I hope to be as gracious and considerate as my mother.
Despite two blood clot surgeries, another for a massive staph infection and then her first stroke, my mother would be upbeat when I called. (I do think she took her never-complain-or-say how-you’re-really-feeling attitude too far, but that’s another story, or blog.)
Even at age 91, when I called and asked how she was (in a walker, requiring full-time help, barely able to see), her reply was always, “I’m excellent, tell me about you!” Her short-term memory wasn’t great, but she took great pleasure in the moment hearing about my life. She was thrilled that I had learned to play bridge and always asked me how it was going.
There was never the guilt-laden “When will I see you?” question, because while she might want to see me more, she was a firm believer that “you have a husband and family and they come first.”
Until my mother’s first stroke in her late 80s, the former university English teacher — her expertise was in Virginia Woolf, whose photo she kept on our baby grand piano — used to read a book a day. Even when she moved to long-term care, she was in a book club. I would find out what the latest, best books were from her and was awed by my cool octogenarian mother.
That first stroke in 2008 was cruel. It knocked out much of her vision and she couldn’t even process books on tape. Her lifeline had been yanked. And still, she kept positive.
In her final days, after a massive second stroke last year, it was nearly impossible for her to speak. Yet she managed to tell my brother and me that she was in no pain so we didn’t worry. She was even able to utter “thank you” for our love and support over the years.
How could she have so much grace under pressure? Can I, will I, be the same way with my three children?
What have you learned, from the person you care for, that you hope to replicate — or absolutely not replicate?