Thursday, August 20, 2015

The good, the bad, and the ugly of caregiving

As anyone who has an elderly parent or relative living with them knows, there are many challenges that come with this dynamic -- both good and bad. Thought I'd share some of the ups and downs in case anyone feels as though they are in this alone -- and I would welcome your comments of what you experience in your role as a caregiver.

First, the good, as I'm a glass-is-half-full kinda gal for the most part and always try to see the positive in most situations. The best part about having my 90-year old mom as part of our home is the rich experiences she shares with my daughter. In our mobile society, it's often unheard of for children to live in the same town -- heck, even the same region of the county -- as their grandparents. My daughter has had the benefit of having her "MamMam" be a part of her life since she was born. MamMam was the one who rocked her to sleep when mommy or daddy was at work, the one who gave her all the love she once had for her own daughter now shifted onto this new little baby girl. My daughter likes when my husband or I tuck her into bed, but she loves it when MamMam takes her to bed and reads her a story and rubs her back. It's their special time together and an experience I wouldn't trade for the world as they have a bond that is so loving and sweet. I'm an only child and so is my daughter, so in many ways, my mom gets to re-live the experience she had of caring for her child all over again.

Because of the close bond that the two of them have, my daughter is extremely comfortable with older adults. In fact, when we are out to lunch or dinner and we happen to run into a senior who may be passing us, she often points out how "cute" that "old person" is or how sweet they are, and often remarks how much she "just loves old people." Not many little kids say that, so I consider myself fortunate that my daughter does! She is also active in her Girl Scout troop as a Brownie, and her troop does many service projects, including doing crafts and singing songs at senior care centers. While some of the girls are a bit apprehensive at working with the seniors, my daughter loves it and talks to them, goes out of her way to make sure they are involved, and chatters afterward about what a great time she had and how cute they were. She's a sensitive and caring little girl and I think those qualities have only been enhanced by the close relationship she has with my mom. Plus my mom and I have always been extremely close -- she was overprotective to a fault when I was growing up, but I know she only had my best interest at heart -- and I love that I don't need to worry about her living alone and having panic set in every time I call her and she doesn't pick up the phone. My dad passed away in 1999 and mom lived on her own, but it was getting more and more difficult to take care of a home on her own, especially when she still insisted on cutting her own grass and shoveling her own snow! It was actually my husband who brought up the idea of her moving in with us right before our daughter was born, so we have been a family of four for nearly 10 years.

But yes, there is the bad side of caregiving: having my husband walk into the house and smell gas throughout our house because my mom bumped the knob on the stove and didn't know she did it. Hearing her ask each morning during the summer if my daughter is going to camp or staying with her that day, even though I just told her before bedtime our plans for the next day. Being paged over the intercom while shoe shopping with my daughter because my mom locked her keys in the car at Barnes & Noble and walked into the store but couldn't remember my cell phone number (but the benefit to living in a small town? My mom told the store manager where I worked, the manager happened to know my work colleague and called her, and my work colleague had me paged because she knew where I was shopping that evening!). Having her forget to take her medicine and then try to take two doses at once, or just deciding that the medicine 'doesn't help her anyway' and just refusing to take it (and the medicine is for blood pressure!). Taking the cat's litterbox outside to change it and then forgetting to bring it back in and having it rain while it was sitting outside. Those instances as well as others are just a few of the invisibly frustrating aspects of caregiving -- the ones you don't typically share with those other than those closest to you. Yes, it is wonderful that my mom lives with us, but yes, it can be very trying and frustrating.

And the ugly side? Well, it got ugly when my mom left my 18-year old cat out the door numerous times because she had her cane wedged in the door and held the door open too long and the cat slipped out. I traipsed through snow and ice through my neighbor's yards calling for my cat. I posted posters and flyers around the neighborhood on numerous occasions, because Callie was gone for a few hours....then overnight....then for two nights...and then two nights again. I even got a call one afternoon while I was at work from a neighbor two blocks away who found Callie sitting on her front patio, and mom hadn't even known that Callie had sneaked out.

Callie was my furry child before I had my daughter, so I was worried sick about her but still had to live my life while she was gone -- go to work, care for mom, care for my daughter, not have an anxiety attack every time my husband screamed that it was my mother's fault the cat got out and she should be the one looking for her. And yes, she did go looking for her and then I had her to worry about her, along with the cat, that she would fall traipsing through the yards with her cane in tow. I wanted to scream at her and show her how hurt and upset I mad I was at what she did...but I couldn't. She's my mom and I love her, in spite of her cognitive decline and short-term memory loss. So I had a war waging with my husband and a war waging within myself on how to handle this. But yes, we finally did get my beloved kitty back for the last time, only to have her get a urinary tract infection and sadly pass last month at the age of 19.

I still have a big ugly war waging over the fact that I'm trying to get my mom to attend a senior day program and she won't go. She complains that she's lonely and that she has no one to talk to during the day, especially while my daughter is at school and we are at work, and like most families, we keep busy with activities and events and aren't home a whole lot. Since I work in senior care administration, I suggested a day program and she finally agreed to go tour it. We toured and got the necessary physical done and paperwork completed and I signed her up for two days a week. When the time came to go, she wouldn't leave. Said she didn't need to be around those old people :) When I explained that it would give me peace of mind, she said she was fine and wasn't a danger to anyone and knew not to drive after dark. When I told her I thought she would be a lot less lonely spending time with others and sharing activities and stories, she said that's not how she wanted to spend her day. I even tried to trick her one morning, telling her that we were going to breakfast before I went in the office and then was planning to drop her off at the center -- but she was wise to me, knowing that I wouldn't be going out for breakfast on a workday. So I struggle with the guilt of that -- my husband said I need to just put her in the car and drop her off and let it be done. I can't do that -- she has feelings and a right to make her own choices as long as she is able to do so. But I lament over what is best for her, best for our family, and best for my sanity!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


What does it mean to be part of the "sandwich generation," exactly?  Well for me, it means a lot of juggling: juggling between running my nine-year old daughter to Girl Scouts and making sure my 90-year old mom had something to eat for dinner, since she likely only ate toast. Juggling between picking my daughter up from school and running her home, only to trek across town again to teach the class I teach twice a week at a local college, and then back home to help her with homework before bedtime. And making sure to check her homework, check to make sure my mom took her meds for the day, and check my email before powering down for the day.Oh yeah...and trying to find time to check in with my husband for at least five minutes while we're in between running the kid, grabbing dinner, and keeping the house going. Even though I just have one child, I sometimes feel as if I have more, given that my mom now needs more care and that we also have three furry children!

I know I'm not alone but sometimes it feels that way, and that's why I decided to create this blog as I know there are others out there that face the same frustrations during their day. I blogged for about three years as a 'mommy blogger,' sharing mostly info about my daughter when she was little and, as a communications major and someone who has enjoyed writing since I was young, I missed that life got in the way and the blog went by the wayside. My hope is, too, to keep it real and share not only the good but also the 'bad' and the 'ugly' of how life can sometimes get.

You see, my colleague and I were just discussing the fact that advertising and marketing often looks too "slick" and perfect...the perfect airbrushed faces, the stock photos, the stories with the great outcomes (and we work in that field so we have first-hand experience with agencies asking us to consider using stock photos in our ads and marketing materials rather than the ones we use which aren't perfect but are perfectly real!). But life isn't always perfect like's gritty. It's hard. It's often challenging. And once we let down our guard and act more real, we also become easier to relate to, since others are often facing the same challenges as we are.

I welcome your comments and shared experiences as we get to know one another on here. Talk to you off to Facebook for awhile and unwind in the silence while everyone is sleeping!