20130305 – Contemplating Caregiving

Sitting here at McD’s nibbling my Egg McMuffin® and sipping my diet soda while Ernesto and the Tuesday crew work hard behind the counter I began thinking back over the last four years and started to appreciate how easy life in the sandwich has been compared to other caregivers like my Dad and our family friend Mr. D who each cared for their spouses 24 hours a day. Assisted living, nursing home, and hospice care can be expensive propositions and most people don’t like the idea of living in Medicaid-induced poverty, assuming they can qualify for assistance at all. So these two men, retired and aging themselves, cared for their spouses at home during their last days.

Ms. D suffered from dementia and the related failure of bodily functions that made her care particularly difficult and the commitment to provide such care something that comes only from unconditional love through 50+ years of marriage. My wife and I have been fortunate not to be the 24 hour caregivers that he needed to be. I stand in awe of Mr. D’s work in seeing his wife through to her passing, and I’m grateful for all of the information he shared with me about what to expect with my Father-in-law as his dementia progressed. What he shared helped us immensely in understanding what my Mother-in-law was experiencing in caring for Dad. The best thing he shared with us is a book called A Dignified Life: The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care, A Guide for Family Caregivers; I heartily recommend this book to anyone caring for a dementia sufferer.

My Mom suffered from the loss of heart and lung function, a gradual decline that left her mind and will generally unaffected but in some ways made her care more difficult for my Dad. Her decline was more generalized and affected her mobility but left her capable in many areas. What she needed most was continuous communication and to see activity continuing around her. She could be very demanding and impatient because she couldn’t do the things she normally did around the house, and expected Dad to pick up all of the slack under her direction. Dad is a quiet and gentle guy who would do anything for anyone; it was a challenge to meet her expectations while being subject to her scrutiny regarding his own health. In my Dad’s situation I was able to take a little time from my job one day each week to go back home (about an hour away) and spell him while he took a little time for himself. Dad also gave of himself unconditionally although I’m not sure Mom really appreciated the sacrifice, but I saw; I knew. And I stand in awe of him as well.

It has been a challenge for me and my wife to help in the care of her parents over the last four years while living in the sandwich as we also helped our son and his wife through some difficult times for them. But as I look back I begin to see how much greater the sacrifice could be than the one we’ve made, and I think that more than anything this look back leaves me grateful for the chance to help our family to the extent I have these last few years.

I’ve been fortunate to have the kind of work that leaves my schedule up to me, and keeps me available to help my family. My wife and I have paid a financial price for it, but when I trade that cost for my presence when I was needed, it’s a small price to pay. I have no regrets. What I have is faith that we’ll be taken care of when we really need the support.  What’s the saying? “Pay it forward!”

Faith, it’s what I live on day to day as I share with you our life in the sandwich …

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