As far as my life-defining experiences are concerned, caregiving ranks right up at the top, along with the illness and death of my father, and with parenting.
After living through difficult caregiving situations, I think it’s safe to say that most people do not want to burden their children. However, from what I observed when I worked as an Assessor at the Area Agency on Aging and what I experienced as a caregiver, I discovered that in the attempt to not be burdensome, parents become exactly that. Ironic, isn’t it?
It is my theory that young people think they don’t need to give caregiving much thought; current caregivers are too darn busy; and past caregivers want to put it all behind them.
In my opinion, the primary reason for this is the lack of communication about the topic. Talking with your children, and even grandchildren, about lifestyle choices and end-of-life care is extremely important.
But because we as a society generally practice avoidance and denial about the topic of caregiving, we delay our response until there are rapidly escalating needs or episodes of crisis with which to deal. Discussion and planning are not usually done “ahead of time”, but as an evolutionary process.
If you look back through my blog posts over the years you will find that I revisit this topic with frequency, as I do likewise with friends and acquaintances who are either embroiled in in caregiving or on the precipice of a cliff and ready to fall off.
A number of my friends contributed caregiver stories for my book What to Do about Mama? One of those was “Patricia” (See Patricia’s Story in What to Do about Mama? pp. 118-120).
Patricia had a sudden onset of cancer during the COVID pandemic. If you want to follow the complete story, go to the Newsletters tab above and sign up—either through my email address or one of the two videos. For the past six months I have been documenting Patricia’s experience with cancer and I will be glad to send you the back editions.
Another friend who contributed a story was Katie. She had two starkly different caregiving situations, one for her mother, the other her mother-in-law. (See Katie’s Story pp 122-126). Together, Katie, Judene, and I, along with our spouses who worked together in the steel making business, were friends. We have witnessed first-hand how life can change dramatically in an instant when a surgeon makes a mistake. Most notable is Katie’s personal experience when, at the age of 64, she suddenly became a poster child for the fragility of life, and she found herself in need of fulltime caregiving. (See Katie’s Update in What to Do about Mama? pp. 308-319.)
This friend, by the way, is one of those individuals who downsized her home and “got organized” proactively—and is now glad that she did. (See Patricia’s Update in What to Do about Mama? pp. 294-296).
“Judene’s ” had an extreme experience as a long-distance caregiving. (See Judene’s Story, What to Do about Mama? pp. 118-120). She also contributed an update where she expressed:
The problems and difficulties of caregiving tend to be repeated to some degree. It’s like anything else that is unpleasant that happens to you or a loved one. You don’t dig in to learn about what avenues are out there to assist you until you have a need for them. And we tend not to trouble our children or friends with unpleasant things, so they don’t have an opportunity to learn from our experiences, such as caregiving. Also, until faced with the problems directly, we often don’t learn even if someone tries to share their experiences. My husband and I have taken steps to prepare for our future; we have long-term health-care coverage. But I acknowledge there are additional things we should do, such as clean out the house; designate recipients of items; pre-plan our funerals; and make sure our will is in order. I guess we avoid said things because it’s just too much of a downer.
What to Do about Mama? pp. 288-289
And it is at this point I begin to feel like I’m beating a dead horse. I agree with Judene’s assessment about avoidance. She and her husband live in a beautiful home high on a hill with a long steep driveway and a yard that requires a lot of care and upkeep. Her husband cannot imagine not living in their home, nor do they believe in hiring anyone to clear the snow from their drive and to do the landscaping. A couple of years ago he participated in a senior triathlon and is proud of his physical condition—as well he should be. But as inevitable, he is now experiencing respiratory problems—and I am concerned that life is coming at them fast.
The following article, Caring and Grieving in the Shadow of COVID September 9, 2021, by Annika Vera brought me to tears. It also made me think of my friend Patricia.
My grandchildren’s Grammy, in other words—my counterpart—passed away on Father’s day. Up until the last half year of her life, she was a vital woman and a go-to grandma. She and her husband were married for nearly 44 years–two months less than I have been married to mine. He wrote her eulogy, a beautiful tribute to his wife and their marriage. The eulogy was hard for him to deliver at the funeral; he did it, but broke down. My 6-year old granddaughter sat beside me, my arm around her holding on tight. She cried when she saw her grandfather cry. My 3-year-old grandson was a little wiggly in my lap; he being too young to understand.
Really, none of us “understands.” Sure we know that we all live, and then we all die. But we would drive ourselves to madness if we tried to make sense of the who’s and the how’s and the why’s, or the “fairness” of it all.
It’s also so hard to know what to say to someone who is unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer and decides not to undergo treatment. So I tried to express my feelings by telling her:
“I am thinking about…
how overwhelmed you must have felt at the seemingly sudden onset of your disease;
how difficult it has been for you to decide what path to take;
the strength of your convictions in deciding your course of action;
your incredibly difficult decision and the courage of your choice;
how you are living life on your own terms;
the wonderful job you have done raising your children who have pulled together in providing support, in respecting your right to choose, and in demonstrating their unconditional love for you;
how much your daughter loves you;
how I hope my son is able to tell you how deeply he loves and respects you, but that if he cannot find his way to speak of his emotions, that you will trust me when I say that he does;
how I will always tell our grandchilden how much love their Grammy has for them and how much joy they have given you.”
And then, at a later date, when the end was drawing near, I sent:
“A Heartfelt Message”
You have given our family a precious gift—YOUR DAUGHTER.
Your kind and gentle nature lives through her.
You have instilled in her the values of love, patience and honesty.
And so it passes—from mother, to daughter, to granddaughter.
Strong women, all.
I can only hope that these words somehow helped. I think they are what I would like to hear.