Part IV Christmas for Caregivers

Part IV Christmas for Caregivers may surprise you by appearing in mid-January. But if you’re a #caregiver, I don’t need to explain. Our endless stream of duties (doctors’ visits, insurance claims, meal prep, pharmacy…) turns each day into an endless to-do list. Throw in tree trimming and gift wrapping and it suddenly feels like December might kill you.

Part IV Christmas for Caregivers

For me that feeling was becoming too real. My shoulder had been injured more times than I could count and my back was aching. I knew I couldn’t make it through the holidays unless I took some kind of break. Mom’s aides could see that exhaustion wearing me down. More than once they heard me say that I might have to move my mother to skilled nursing because I just couldn’t manage anymore. They worried for me, for Mom, for the future.

My support team is an odd mix of single moms, retirees, teenagers, ex-nursing home aides, a sister, and some friends. They are very loyal to my mother who can still charm people without being able to speak. Some have been helping out for more than a year, a few have been with us longer. I didn’t know they were having a private discussion about my situation until the day I returned in tears from a second nursing home visit. Two of them were standing in the kitchen waiting to learn if I found a site for respite care.

“It’s not gonna work,” I told them, “That facility specializes in diabetes care and they were not prepared to provide advanced dementia care. No place is going to take her because she needs two people for every transfer from her chair.”

I was ready to accept our sad fate which would probably include another move for my mother. This time to a skilled nursing home.

Part IV Christmas for Caregivers, the Real Gift

One of our aides stopped me before I could say one more thing.

“We have it figured out,” she said, “You can take your vacation.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, “There’s no place for Mom to go while I’m gone.”

“No,” the aide told me, “There are enough of us here to cover for a week without you. We just need someone to be you.”

I still didn’t get it, “What do you mean? How could someone be me?”

She laughed, “One person has to stay here every night, like you always do. The rest of us will just come in and help at our regular times to give the night person a break. That way your mom can can keep the same routine, with people she already knows, and you can take a real vacation.”

I considered this for a moment and realized that we might actually be able to work it out. Of course I would pay the person who took over my duties and stayed overnight, but that wouldn’t cost more than respite care. With this arrangement I wouldn’t spend my whole vacation worrying because I already trusted the people involved.

It took a few hours of strategizing to create a schedule for everyone. Once I did it, I felt tremendous relief. For the first time in years, I started looking online for cheap airfares and hotels. I decided to go back to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place full of creative traditions that always revive me.

The people who help my mom every day gave me the best gift anyone could possibly offer a #caregiver — real rest. In my vacation week I read a great book (The Round House, by Louise Erdrich) from start to finish. The Santa Fe Film Festival was underway so I saw a few movies. I got therapy for my back and shoulder. By the time I got home, I felt like my old self — the person I was before #dementia struck my mom.

Mom is still content in her chair.  We have no idea how long she’ll be here, but I’m so grateful that our support team helped me get a second wind. For right now, that’s enough.

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