Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Caregiving: Managing, Waiting, & Doing The Best I Can

It's been about 25 months in arrival, but now it's official and on record. I'm now Mom's caregiver. After all the many years, and countless ways, when she was there for me, it's my turn. She depends on me. What an honor, but how frightening at the same time!

A very cursory Google search told me that, as of mid-2011, there were an estimated 15 million unpaid caregivers (friends and family members)for patients with an Alzheimers diagnosis. What about the numbers taking into account other age groups, and other physical and mental conditions? By what factor would this number increase?

Yesterday was Mom's 88th birthday. She acknowledged it with her continued good humor, especially when she met, for the first time, with two of her Los Angeles Hospice workers, the registered nurse and the home health aide. As a psychotherapist, not a day goes by that I don't strongly emphasize the need for clear, honest communication. These gentleman promise to be the best -- respectful, professional, and attentive -- to Mom, and me, as well. They seemed appreciative of our professional insights (Mom had a 25-year career as an LVN, and as a nursing home staff member before that).

I am so grateful to Mom's primary doctor for referral for these services, just when my tether of physical and emotional energy was becoming frighteningly frayed. I am thankful for the Medicare funds that are providing these for her care and comfort, and enabling her to remain in the home in which she's lived since 1964. And I'm proud to be a baby-boomer and AARP member, with our strong, insistent chorus, advocating for rights for which we (and our elders) worked so hard.

In trying to "practice what I preach," I'm displaying my skills of assertion. Samples of words that have become permanent parts of my vocabulary:

"I'll be right there, Mom!

"Sorry, I can't afford it right now."

"Now is not a good time." (Said to many telephone callers)

"What's your cell number? Here's mine...and don't hesitate to use it." (Said many times over the past two days to Los Angeles Hospice staff. They're now on my cell contact dial list)

Aside from my increase in assertiveness, I'm trying to shore up patience--of which I've never possessed much. When I fall short, I try to forgive myself and move on. Again, this is something contrary to my basic nature.

My cell phone, my computer calendar, and my organizational skills help me maintain some illusions of sanity and control. I'm also holding fast to the few family members I have, and numerous empathic friends, because I'm now even more aware of how precious human connections are.

When I'm home from work, and the house is quiet, I try to write in my private journal while I'm still conscious. I shed private tears, and frankly acknowledge how scared I am of the future.

And then I recover my hope when I remember the gifts I have.

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