Caring for Frail Neighbors

Caring for frail neighbors can save lives during weather disasters. This week the #bombcyclone put our village through a week of the coldest weather I can remember. Today the temperature rose from MINUS 5 Fahrenheit  to 18 degrees. Yet, somehow it actually felt warm!

Caring for Frail Neighbors

When my mom was here, I suffered from a sense of desperate loneliness during weather events like this. Even though we usually had enough fuel and food, the people who supported us could not get to our house. Snow, ice, and school cancellations kept them at home. Now that mom is receiving care in a 24-hour setting, I don’t face the same barriers and isolation. Though I’m often sad about her absence, I now have more time to help others living around me.

There are several older neighbors in my community who suffer from serious health problems. Mary, for example, lives on the lane behind our property. She took care of her sick husband for many years. He had multiple heart operations with many different complications. Like me, she suffered shoulder dislocations from lifting a loved one when there was no one available to help. Mary served as a home #caregiver who looked after her husband until the very end of his life.

Mary also helped me on many occasions during my mother’s illness. Hardship never stole her sense of humor or spiritual faith. But now she’s the one suffering from health problems. Despite her physical limitations, Mary hates to ask for help. Like so many elders, she won’t admit when she needs assistance.

When caring for frail neighbors or family

It’s easy to think that elders turn down offers of help because they’re being  proud or stubborn. But an interesting research study from the University of Oregon helps explain why many elderly people refuse aid from people who care about them. Professor Michelle Barnhart found that elders were less likely to accept help if the person offering assistance made them feel old.  

According to Barnhart,”Almost every stereotype we associate with being elderly is something negative, from being ‘crotchety’ and unwilling to change to being forgetful. Conflicts come up when someone does not think of themselves as old — but people in their family or caregiving group are treating them as such.”

The findings from this research can be very helpful when you’re reaching out to an older friend or family member. When my mom first got sick, she got furious the day I suggested she get involved in something fun at the Senior Center. Why? Because Senior Centers are for old people! So as you check in on the elders in your life — whether you’re worried about their memory or their food supply — try to offer help in a way that treats their age as a well-kept secret.

Bearing Witness as a Caregiver

Bearing witness as a caregiver can be painful. As the new year begins, and my role in Mom’s care continues to shift, I’m paying careful attention to changes in her condition. Unfortunately, most changes are signs of decline. When I was the primary caregiver, I had too many responsibilities and no time to think. Though I have more time for reflection now, my thoughts are steeped in sadness.

Bearing Witness as a Caregiver

My mother’s shift to full-time, skilled nursing care coincided with the end of the year. During most years, I use these dark winter months to consider where life has brought me and decide where I want to end up next December. Usually I go to a book store and leaf through a dozen magazines in search of inspiration. Then I buy a few and cut out pictures to make a vision board. Last year’s board is sitting upstairs with the pictures falling off. I never really completed it because I was always too busy. Even though I have more time now, I’m not as motivated to do a board for 2018. Grief is catching up with me.

When you’re a day-to-day #caregiver, your tears have no path to the surface. You can’t cry while lifting a sick person. You can’t weep while feeding them. Maybe you can sniffle in the grocery store, but your face better be dry before you walk into the cold night air. I can cry in the car at times, but that never lasts long. Grief gets interrupted when someone cuts you off on the highway.

A dozen professionals now deliver my mother’s care. With more moments for reflection, I notice that her ten year fight with #dementia is like a filmed auto accident stretched out by special effects to last a decade. Unlike a movie on DVD, you can’t hit the stop button to avoid watching the accident. And it’s impossible to push fast forward to eliminate years of suspense. Dementia just plods along, stealing things you love until it finally takes possession of everything.

Bearing Witness as a Caregiver

Though we may be tempted to turn away, bearing witness might be our most important act at the end of the disease. Even if someone else takes on the daily toil of cleaning and feeding our loved ones, we remain powerful advocates because we know them so well. The most informed doctor can’t decipher what a double blink means once speech disappears. A nurse can’t know when grinding teeth signify, “Blankets, please!”

It’s difficult to accept Mom’s decline and know I can’t do anything to stop it. But I want — no, I need — to be brave and watch with care. Time can move fast or slow, but it’s always passing and I can’t afford to miss a thing in 2018.