I missed a writing day because I invited a dozen friends over for a “Caring for the Caregivers” brunch. It’s not like I don’t have enough to do, what with work and blogging and care giving for my mother. But for the past couple of years I’ve heard story after story from friends, relatives, and coworkers of how they are caring for their parents, partners, kids, or siblings. Or all of those.
There’s the friend whose in-laws have been dying, in India, where if you don’t have someone at the patient’s bedside 24/7 to feed and bath and otherwise tend to them, they will be discharged. So my friend and her husband and his sister and her husband are taking turns flying to India—to a city that is not easy to get to—and sitting vigil by the bedside as the father died, and now as the mother dies. This is not cheap or easy.
There is the friend whose mother took her life savings—literally bags of cash—to a car dealership. Reports of an 80-year-old woman weaving down the street in a shiny new $90,000 Acura to the food shelf to get her commodities got back to my friend. Her mother was diagnosed with dementia. The car went back to the dealership and the mother entered a memory care unit, where she is happily making new friends. But none of that happened easily, or overnight.
There was the friend whose mother collected things. Anything. Everything. Beanie babies, empty coffee cans, popsicle sticks, travel sized toiletries, balls of yarn, cans of tuna, artificial Christmas trees, washcloths. Her mother died, and I went with her out to the tiny farm town to clean out the house. Actually, a dumpster had to be filled before any cleaning could take place. When I took down the lace curtains in the bedroom, clouds of dust enveloped my head and the curtains practically disintegrated. The most interesting thing we found was an old Playboy magazine under the shelf paper in her mother’s dresser drawer.
Please, don’t collect things.
Then there is my friend who had to cancel her trip to England. She wound up having a 12-hour surgery to fuse her spine. Her partner cared for her, and then she cared for him when he donated a kidney to save her cousin’s life. A kidney! He and the cousin are both doing well.
It’s not that people are constantly complaining. But the strain is evident in the stories, even when they’re told dispassionately. So I felt a desire to gather people to share some stories and maybe some laughs.
It’s not exclusively women who are caregivers. I am proud that my son has stepped up to care for his grandparents in a big way. If I had included care giving men in my invitation, I would have had to rent a room in a restaurant to fit everyone.
I keep thinking back to a day, three years ago. I took a day off of work and left the house at 8am. I drove to a far southern suburb to a medical supply store and picked up a walker (Zimmer Frame) for my mother. She had been in two car accidents which caused hairline fractures in her spine and hips. I drove to her house, in a northern suburb, where I adjusted the walker for her, then did a few loads of wash. I then drove to St. Cloud, a city two hours away, and visited my son in prison. After my one-hour visit, I drove back to an eastern suburb to my sister’s house. She was on chemo and I think I folded kids’ socks for an hour and did some other chores. Then I drove to my brother’s house in another suburb and watched his kids for a few hours.
I got home around 8pm. I was exhausted but the day had also made me realize what I was really made of.
Then I did some variation of this every week for the next two years. Now everyone is doing well, and I just want to feed people who are in the same boat.
I’m also beginning to plan my next escape ….