I suspect that many caregivers live in a state of suspended animation, as if their own life is on hold. I’ve had this feeling a few times in the past two years — I turn 60 this year, and I know I should be planning my retirement, but it doesn’t seem appropriate or feasible. I keep renewing the lease on my apartment thinking – how permanent is this living arrangement? How long will my parents need me? It’s impossible to know. … More Lesson #9: Who, Me?
I had just arrived at my parent’s home for an afternoon of caregiving. Dad was in the garage, and when my car pulled in, he walked up the driveway to greet me. I’m not sure what it was – the big, smiling welcome on his face, the hunch of his shoulders, the sag of his pants, the enthusiasm in his watery, old eyes – but my heart lept into my chest and my throat tightened. I felt I was witnessing, in that flash, the transient nature of life, and its vital yet dwindling presence in this beautiful man, this very moment, this time-honoured soul. … More Lesson #8: My Heart Went BLOOM
We were standing just outside the change rooms at Walmart, where my Mom had been trying on brassieres. Nothing fit or felt right to her, and we had been at it for hours, with me running back and forth for different models and sizes. She needed me in the small stall with her, she was having trouble with the straps and boxes. We were both hot, tired and frustrated. I looked at my watch and said, “Do any of these fit? We really should leave. Dad’s been alone for a while now.” … More Lesson #7: Rushing is a Form of Bullying
You know that tired old cliché about the middle-aged spinster living alone with two cats? Yup, that’s me. Although if someone had ever called me a “spinster”, I’d have laughed in their face as I rushed past them on the way to the airport. I’m single by choice, I enjoy my own company, I love to travel, and I’m rarely lonely. … More Lesson #6: Letting Go of Resentment
“Oh, that’s horrible! How awful. You must be devastated.”
This is a typical reaction when I tell people that my parents were diagnosed with dementia. “Both of them?” Yes, both of them. And when I tell people that I put my career on hold to become their primary caregiver, the response is varied but still predictable. Shock and awe. Sympathy. Curiosity. In a few rare instances, an immediate empathic understanding. But also the complete opposite; some people look at me as if I’ve gone a bit crazy, or am about to tell them the rest of the joke. You’re kidding, right? … More Lesson #5: Ditch the Dreaded “D” Words
It may be a global world out there, but here in Quebec it continues to be an embarrassingly small one, where people argue over language ad nauseum. It’s enough to make you sick. But wait! If you are sick (and even if the law likes to pretend that you have rights), it doesn’t mean you are going to get a health care professional who speaks your language. Which is a crying shame, because when you’re not feeling your best, it’s really hard to focus on a foreign language. … More Lesson #4: How do You Say That in French?
I woke up wanting to protect my parents from me. Bullish, angry bossy me, ready to rant and rave at a moment’s notice, poised to take on the world and be their caregiving hero, no matter what it takes to make it work. Yelling at doctors, slamming the phone down on telemarketers, telling door-to-door salespeople that they shouldn’t be badgering my parents… all with good intentions, of course! Protecting them from the outside world, or so I thought. … More Lesson #3: Leave Your Ego at the Door
My mother and I have always been close, even though I left home at 18 and have been blazing my own trail since. When my last relationship ended, she was the first person I called, sobbing and hiccuping over the phone. She’s never, ever not been there for her five children…the role of mother is essential to her existence. This is so important for me to remember now, as the struggle over “roles” becomes a daily puzzle. … More Lesson #2: Role Over
We were standing in a retail store, having painstakingly chosen a new electric razor for my father. For the third time in fifteen minutes, he asked the saleslady “When did these gadgets get so expensive?” and made a joke about getting a senior’s discount. He is so charming with strangers, my father. He loves to make people laugh. And the saleslady did laugh… politely each time, each time a little less exuberantly. At some point our eyes met, and I sensed that she understood… … More Lesson #1: Lose the Label