Not caring is the easy path
CNN.com had a story today about how the stress of caregiving can make one sick — physically sick. With real symptoms. Here is the link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/05/20/caregivers.health.risks/index.html
This struck a chord because I am gearing up for two weeks of relieving my sister in our mother’s care. I know she’s tired. And stressed. She told me one recent Sunday that she was skipping taking Mom to church because even that has become stressful. I completely understand because I’ve been there. It’s like taking a 3- or 4-year-old to church and expecting her to have an hour-long attention span and not speak to you or fidget for that entire hour. She wants to go, and you want to take her, and you want to believe that this time will be different, that this time you will relax and que sera, sera. But despite your best intentions to not allow the looks that others give you during that hour because your mom is talking loudly during the sermon, or begging you for a kiss, or offering you a cough drop — despite your best intentions to remain unruffled you feel that anxiety begin its slow rumble from your belly up into your throat, and before you know it you’re whispering to her to keep her voice down, and she thinks it’s a joke and she’s giggling and poking you and all you can think is: We should have stayed home.
Having a parent in residential care is in some ways easier because the staff bear the brunt of the care. But you still have to be the advocate who visits often and makes sure that your parent isn’t being forgotten simply because he or she can no longer communicate his or her needs. You have to be on the lookout for things that the staff may miss simply because caregiving is hard. You are the one who has to shop for clothes and shoes, pay the bills. You are the one who gets the call when he or she falls, gets sick, or has a seizure. The fact is that none of this is easy. None of it.
Earlier this week, I said something to my husband, half in jest, about how much easier life would be if I simply didn’t give a damn. If I were able to say, “Oh, well, Mom is 80, this was bound to happen but I don’t have time to deal with this. Let’s just put her in a nursing home and be done with it.” Most people who have elderly, sick parents are doing everything within their power to care for them and do it well. But I’ve sat in enough support groups to hear the stories about those family members who either don’t pull their weight in caring for elderly parents or who simply check out completely. And some days, while I don’t understand how a mature adult could do this, I have to say that I am envious of their ability to simply remove themselves from the caregiving equation. It would certainly mean not losing days and weeks of work time. It would mean being able to go on a trip that doesn’t involve caregiving. It would mean sleeping through the night without the worry of how we are going to handle mom’s urinary and fecal incontinence, or how we are going to handle the next phase of the Alzheimer’s and the expenses this will mean. To think of all those hours and weeks and months I took for granted as being completely mine.
I love my mother. She wasn’t perfect. No mother is ever perfect. But I had everything I needed from her when I was growing up. That’s why I go and help care for her. And to all of you out there who are caring for family members or friends who are chronically ill, my hat is off to you. But do try to squeeze in some time to take care of yourself. And when others offer to help you — to relieve you for an hour or two so you can go for a walk or see a movie — please, say yes. There are good people out there willing to help you hold on to your own health and sanity.