Tag Archives: caregiver stories

The Many Jobs of Caregivers

When my mom got sick, I knew I’d end up doing many things for her. In doctor’s offices we saw people with advanced cases of dementia that scared me. I had to stop myself from thinking about the future since it looked so bleak. But in addition to the jobs I expected to get stuck with, there were more I didn’t foresee. At this time of year they take up lots of my time.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Arctic cold filled our stream with isles of ice

  • Fiscal Manager — It’s amazing how much many hours it takes to manage the details of my mother’s finances. When she told me many years ago that she had assigned me her Power of Attorney, I had no idea what that really meant. I also failed to realize how much of each week I’d spend paying her bills, keeping track of her insurance claims, and organizing her financial records. Doing it for yourself is something you get used to as you get older, but when you add the task of doing it for someone else, it starts to feel like a full time job. Sometimes I believe I am singlehandedly keeping the U.S. Post Office in business. (Though I know some of you are helping me!)
  • Tax Accountant — As soon as the ball drops on New Years’ Eve, the tax year changes. That means I have to start putting together the receipts for filing my Mom’s tax returns. I hate doing my own taxes, mostly because I operate a business. I’d much rather write and do the work my clients ask from me than sort through transactions — doing the work the government demands from me. Paying taxes is something I accept as part of life. It comes along with stopping at red lights, doing laundry, and shoveling snow. But thank goodness I don’t need to keep a record of every time I hit the brakes or wash the sheets. It’s not the work, it’s the paperwork that kills me.
  •  Property Manager — My mom wasn’t rich, but she did own a home that sat empty after her health declined and she moved in with me. We realized that this asset shouldn’t remain vacant because it could generate income to pay for more intensive services she’d need as her disease advanced. For me, this has meant learning about leases, advertising for tenants, and figuring out how to choose responsible ones. It also meant that during last week’s arctic freeze, I had to drive an hour to interview new applicants, spend long afternoons cleaning the place, and rush home in howling winds. This is all part of the job of keeping a steady income stream there for my mother as her need for medical support rises.

When I write this list down, it actually looks pretty short. But as I carry out these responsibilities, they seem never ending. What I hate most about these jobs isn’t the hours they take away from my daily routine. I am far more resentful of the time they steal from my relationship with my mother. These are afternoons I’d prefer to spend in her sweet, childlike company. At this point, we don’t have a minute to squander. So I must remind myself that 2014 cannot be a year of drudgery. It needs to be a year of cherishing the moments still left to us.

Small achievements, great joys

At this time of year, the shadow of dread touches me at least as often as signs of seasonal happiness. Yes, I am grateful that my mother has made it through another year. But I never know if she’ll actually understand what’s going on or be touched by things that once made her holidays joyful.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Lately she’s had me worried because, on most days, her speech is nearly incomprehensible. Sometimes I ask myself how she can go on when it’s obvious the jumble in her brain keeps her from saying a clear word. But this week something amazing happened. It wasn’t exactly a Christmas miracle — just one of those strange events that melts your heart and fills your eyes with tears.

The leader at her activity program organized an evening bus trip to take Mom and her fellow dementia sufferers out to see a giant display of Christmas lights. I tried to do something similar with her last year but it didn’t turn out well. She could barely get into the car and seemed more uncomfortable than impressed, even as we passed sparkling trees and store fronts. Fortunately, her program director had a minibus with large windows and good visibility which probably made the difference. Plus, the lights they saw were part of an enormous outdoor show at Shady Brook Farm.  Every arrangement was on a huge scale that made lights visible to even the weakest eyes. The farm also featured young students playing holiday music, a double trigger (kids+music) for my mom.

The day after their trip, Mom stood with me as I heard more details from the activity director. We were both surprised when Mom started to talk and told us how much she loved the tour. She shocked us by speaking in complete sentences and knowing that the trip was “yesterday.” “Yes-ter-day” — repeated the activity director, right along with me. “Yes-ter-day,” said Mom, again.  It was the first time in ages she’d held onto a memory for 24 hours. Like a sentimental mother hearing her child speak new words, I could barely keep from crying. I was so proud of her, so delighted by the deep impact of the trip.

I know I can’t hope this will happen often — or ever again. But for that one moment, her sentence spoke volumes to me, words I will never forget.