Taking Care of Business Every Day
If you are a Baby Boomer and are lucky enough to still have living parents, chances are their health and welfare is becoming more and more your responsibility. I am a 62-year-old only child of a mother who will be 91 a less than a week and I live 150 miles from her. Hopefully within the next year my husband, daughter and I will be moving nearer, but in the meantime we are dealing with the issues that come up with having a parent age. From this distance it’s a little like juggling cats against the backdrop of working as Special Education Para educator, having an adult child with Special , and having a husband living and working 1,500 miles away for the last year and a half. I have what is known as a "commuter marriage." Every day requires the planning of a general. Fortunately I have some officers in the form of a son and daughter-in-law who live with us and another son and daughter-in-law twenty minutes away. Many family caregivers are not so fortunate.
So far my mother has remained relatively independent, living alone in her own subsidized apartment with a minimum of help. She does not desire to go into an assisted living arrangement and we are doing whatever we can to keep her where she is for as long as possible. “Other people die in this building. Why can’t I,” she has asked. Keeping track of her deductible expenses to keep her qualified for her low rent has fallen to me as well as bill paying, although we've managed to make most of that automatic.
In 1985 my mother had a serious bout of cellulitis fueled by MRSA. To this day we don’t know how she contracted it, but it rears its ugly head from time to time and I have to be prepared to get her seen by a doctor when it happens and monitor her recovery. If the doctor doesn’t order home health and a visiting nurse, I ask. My mother is not a good reporter and will sugar coat things on the phone so I want trained eyes to see her blisters and whether or not they are getting better. That’s the fun we’ve been having right now—organizing a visiting nurse.
The health is a big issue and in addition to home health I pay for a medic alert device and it’s been worth every penny. After doing some research on the Internet I chose Get Help Now because they didn’t require a long term contract. With an elderly person you could sign up for three years and be stuck with a couple of years contract when they pass. We are on a six month contract which seems far more reasonable.
When my mother began to take multiple medications at first I counted pills. This was nerve wracking especially when she attempted to do it and I found mistakes that either of us had made. Then I discovered that for very little extra the pharmacy will blister pack her medications. She gets two cards each month, one for the morning and one for the evening. That was a good sized stone lifted off of me!
Some things as small and yet as huge as garbage can be daunting. My mother, with some effort, can get her garbage out of the kitchen can and on a good day onto her walker to take down in the apartment building elevator, but lifting the lid of the big green dumpster is a no-go. It’s not all that easy for me! She asked a neighbor if we could pay her to take out the garbage and so for a pittance she puts the bag in the hall and it disappears. The neighbor needs the money and my mother definitely needs the help. Without this arrangement Mother could not remain in her own place.
Laundry is another problem. My mother has toppled over in the laundry room. Through a local agency that assists the old and infirm we hire someone to spend 1.5 hrs. per week at my mom’s, mostly doing laundry. If need by we’ve stretched her fixed income to cover 2 hrs. but it is a stretch. This week the chore person is taking my mother to the doctor so the laundry will be waiting for me when I make my bi-weekly run to the coast to shop and do whatever else she needs. I don’t mind. I’m glad that my mother doesn’t have to take dial-a-ride to the doctor because sometimes she has to wait as long as an hour to get a ride home which is tiring.
With both my mother and my daughter letting them make decisions is crucial so that they maintain a sense of autonomy. In other words I pick my battles to build political capital for times when I have to insist. “Are you going to have a shower this morning or wait until tonight?” vs. “No, is not an option.” In my job I have seen what not letting an individual feel that they have any control over their life can do. You end up with behaviors you don’t want and contention that makes life unpleasant for everyone concerned. It’s all part of my juggling act. I will be so grateful when my husband’s time away from home is done and I have him as a helpmate. Both my mother and daughter react differently to him which makes me laugh, but whatever gets the job done.
Recently my husband’s parents became in need of 24 hour care. Instead of seeing his parents go into an institution or adult family home, which they most definitely did not want, one of my brothers-in-law and his wife stepped up to the plate and left their lives on hold to care for my in-laws. Their care has been nothing short of extraordinary. They kept them first in the parents’ own apartment and then took them into their own home where they could be assisted by their own adult son. With a dying mother and a father suffering from short term memory loss they have had their hands full, but they have cared for them with patience and love they would not receive from strangers in an institution. I stand in awe of them and wonder if I could do the same.
Many nights I lose sleep wondering about those I love. Tonight I will sleep well as my mother has organized her own ride to the doctor tomorrow to get wound care.