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!
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.
You are more than a caregiver! Unfortunately, I had almost forgotten that motto. I haven’t written much in the past month. My house was accumulating dust. The garden sat untended. I was so overwhelmed with #caregiving responsibilities that I found myself neglecting important matters.
Last year, when I moved my mom back into my house I wasn’t sure what to expect. Doctors had been discussing hospice and I was really afraid she would die among strangers. Bringing her home again felt like the right choice. I could not foresee how much my own life would change. I wanted last summer to be special. I wanted Mom to enjoy the sounds of birdsong on the porch and feel nourished by good home cooking. I didn’t plan further than that.
After we moved her, Mom got stronger for a while. Then she got weaker. I went from being able to manage her hygiene alone to needing another support person. Now we rely on a rotating group of helpers who pop in when I have to take her to the bathroom, or make sure I can get out to go to the bank. My household is like a carousel that keeps spinning. But in the process of managing everything for my mother, I’ve been quietly losing bits of myself.
How #Caregivers Lose Ground
In recent months I stopped finding time to do things that matter:
- I wasn’t taking my walks. I used to go out almost every day for at least 20 minutes. The weather’s been nice, so there’s no excuse. I just let daily walks slip out of my routine.
- My personal writing projects were shoved to the back burner. Pieces I’d been working on for months started to seem unimportant. Somehow they never got finished.
- Mom now needs two people to lift her instead of one, so I can’t leave the house for more than two hours unless there are two aides on duty. My response: I stayed home more and lost time spent with friends and my sweetheart Mike.
I could blame my mom, but I let this happen without noticing the subtle ways things had changed. I’m getting a grip on the wheel again and I can see how even a modest lack of discipline can result in losing track of yourself. Somewhere along the way I stopped fighting the rising tide of responsibility.
Now I see that #caregivers must fight that tide to keep our lives from getting swept away in it. I have to schedule my walks on the calendar if I’m going to take them. In terms of family health, my walks are as important as my mother’s doctor’s appointments. I have to fight the temptation to do so much for others when the itch to write gets strong. Those unwritten pages haunt my dreams. Time with friends is essential, too. I need to take the initiative to make sure I get those social breaks.
Being a #caregiver is hard. We’re forced to make many sacrifices. Our silver lining is a rare, prolonged glimpse into the heart of human experience. If we pay attention, we can learn patience and humility — essential qualities in this crazy world! But we walk a tightrope every day. Without balance, we fail ourselves.