Above: Mom with several of her nine grandchildren
Since December of 2021, I’ve been a full-time caregiver for my mom, 87, who suffered a stroke in November 2021. I’ve learned a few things about caregiving — and am still learning — so I thought I’d share some things I’ve figured out along the way. I’ve made mistakes for sure, but I’ve also had a few successes.
- It’s more important now than ever to prioritize. I work from home, so I get to be about 10 feet away from Mom while I work, for which I’m super grateful. I’ve cut back on some of my volunteer work, especially anything that requires me to be out of the house, since Mom can’t be left alone. There are very things we do in which we don’t include Mom.
- Create routines. We’ve set up a schedule of meals that are mostly the same each week. Friday night is hamburger night, Sunday is hot dog night, and so on. This gives Mom some stability and sameness and allows her to anticipate and, I think, feel a sense of security.
- Find fun things to do that are easy for her. Our town has a Christmas light display that you drive through, which she loves. We do it every year and talk about it so she looks forward to it. We also have TV shows that we watch regularly — right now we’re binging Master Chef (Season Two). We talk about what’s going on and who we like and don’t like. I think it makes her feel a little more a part of things.
- Be willing to make a fool of yourself. I do all sorts of crazy things at home like singing and dancing to make her laugh. I try to crack her up as often as possible. I’ve always heard that laughing is good for the body and soul, so I’ll do nearly anything to give her a chuckle at my expense.
- Pets are wonderful companions. In spite of herself, Mom has grown to love Artie, our mini Aussiedoodle. He sits on her lap and snuggles with her and I’ve actually caught her talking to him. It’s nice that she can enjoy him without the responsibility of caring for him.
- Become a location scout. There are some places it’s easy for us to go, some places not so much. I’m learning to skip locations and venues that aren’t accessible for her, to keep her from getting frustrated and feeling like an outsider.
- Develop and cultivate patience. Sometimes it would be more efficient for me to do something for her, but it’s better for her to feel as independent as possible. It can be hard for me to let go and let her do things, but when I can (while watching out of the corner of my eye) I let her try first.
- Talk about the future. I want her to have things to look forward to — gatherings with family, dinners out, special events — so I talk to her about what’s coming up on our calendar and long-term season changes. She’s especially looking forward to spring and summer, when we sit on the patio, look at the flowers and enjoy a glass of wine together.
- Understand that you will get frustrated. It’s not unlike parenting in that it’s the most rewarding job, but can also be the most challenging. I don’t have a lot of time to myself, but I balance that with the memories I’m creating with Mom.
- Educate yourself on the medical stuff. I’m lucky to have a sister, brother-in-law, and nephew who are physicians, so I can get easy answers to my medical questions as quickly as I can send a text message. Otherwise I’d have to spend quite a bit of time researching and studying her medical needs.
- Schedule time off regularly. I’ll admit I resisted this at first, but a family member insisted and I’m glad she did. I use the time for simple me time — hair and nails, shopping, errands, and sometimes I go to Jim’s office to get some work done before we go out to dinner.
- Empathy is important. Before her stroke, Mom was an independent, active person who could come and go as she pleased. Now she depends on us for transportation to appointments and to church on Sunday. I try to frame it as time together rather than highlight the fact that she can no longer drive.
- Reset your housekeeping standards. We are blessed with a wonderful housekeeper who comes each week and I often wonder what she must think of us. The house looks great after she’s been here, but it only lasts a day or so. I’d rather spend time with Mom watching TV than clean house, so I really don’t care.
These are only a few of the lessons I’ve learned from this past 15 months; I’m still learning. I mess up each and every day and try to do better next time. Above all, I try to enjoy our time together and ensure that she enjoys it too. I wouldn’t trade this time with her for the world.