Caregiving Reality Check
by Bonnie H.
I'm one of those people who can't bear watching someone suffer who needs help. Consequently I've been in the caregiving position numerous times over the years.
It was no surprise, then, when my 93 year old mother broke her shoulder and I agreed to let her live with me during her recovery. She moved in 1 year after I had lost my husband, and I thought taking care of her would help pull me out of my own grief. At least that's what the experts always say - help someone else and you'll feel better.
Sometimes it works. This time it didn't. For one thing, caring for a parent is like having a baby who can talk and argue and tell you what to do.
I came to grips with that about the time I discovered the nurses lied - her recovery would never be full, so she should live here full time. (What we found out later was that Medicare was going to stop paying for her in home nurses so they basically needed to dump that responsibility on someone else.)
She has been here 17 months now and the quality of my own life has gone down hill, while the quality of my mother's life has exceeded anything anyone expected.
She's now in better shape than me or my siblings - and we're all in our own senior years (66,68,71 and 73) - right at the ages when our own health problems are beginning.
I, for instance, was diagnosed with severe COPD and now struggle to comply with my own doctors and therapist's instructions while also taking care of our mother's needs. Before you suggest it, we HAVE seriously considered finding a nice senior care center for our mother, which she can well afford.
But here's where the clincher comes in ... we spent months making sure she was comfortable enough here that she'd relax and and settle in. She now loves it here. She even has her own bird feeding station outside my big living room windows, where we've pushed a table up to the table so she can watch them whenever she wants.
The entire house has been rearranged so as to suit her needs for moving around safely. Items in cupboards and the frig. have been arranged where she can reach them. I've given her her own bedroom with a full bath, which have also been redone to suit her needs. She's got full charge of my new big screen TV now (since I don't enjoy any of the shows she watches.)
Lots of her furnishings now take up room in my home - which I had just redecorated in a minimalist style before she got hurt.
I never even finished painting or putting the huge tree
stencil and leaves across the top of one high ceiling because there's no point in doing those things when they'd only be hidden behind her furnishings and pictures.
My siblings knew when Mom moved in how important my new decor was to me after my husband died, and we all tried to stick to that decor but, one by one, we gave in to Mom's preferences and now it's at the point where I don't even know my own house any more when I walk into it.
I have, literally, detached from it. This isn't our mother's fault. It's OUR fault for not having developed a real plan about such things BEFORE Mom ever moved in, not to mention a surrendering plan if/when we decided we couldn't take it anymore. At first it seemed like no big deal.
So what if her little pics are on the table I like keeping cleaned off? She deserves to have her things nearby, right? But you have to stop and think of these little things before you choose to become someone's caregiver.
Know your limits and let others know what they are and stick to them no matter what. From my own experience I can honestly admit how resentful I have become - not of my mother, but of our circumstances.
The biggest problem is that we've made our mother SO comfy here that none of us has the heart to make her move somewhere else after all this time.
Somehow we didn't think about needing to identify our limitations way back when, or honoring our own needs. Meanwhile I'm stuck with 24/7 caregiving oversight, my sisters give up 2+ days a week to stay here with Mom when I go to pulmonary rehab, my brother and his wife make dinners and bring them up for the freezer - all things that are truly wonderful.
But ... we are tired. We resent we don't have adequate time to focus on our OWN senior citizen needs, especially concerning health issues. At this point we all fear that by the time our mother leaves, we may not have much of ourselves left for enjoying the last of our years.
It is a serious dilemma for people like us who have prided ourselves on being a close family and who would do anything for our family members. PLEASE, before you consider doing this kind of job, stop and realize what you will be compromising with beforehand, because although our mother is happy as ever, all of us kids are wiped out and growing more resentful by the day.
There isn't even any place to direct our anger about it either, so we simply count on being supportive of one another, which helps a lot but doesn't solve a darn thing.