Tag Archives: relationships with elders

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.

Mysteries of Winter…and Dementia

I was raised on a diet of magic sleds and sugar plum fairies. So I have great reverence for the mysteries of winter.  But a real, human chimney sweep has long since replaced Santa as the person most likely to land in my fireplace. I’m not a slave to Christmas customs, apart from my need for a real tree, but this time of year still brings a mystery that challenges my imagination. How has my mother managed to celebrate another birthday?

cropped cake photo

Today is her day. For years, her annual party was overshadowed by family visits that stole the winter spotlight. Now, when these rituals are less prominent, we can have a real party — one just for her. Dementia complicates the event but it doesn’t steal all her pleasure.

It’s nearly impossible to interpret Mom’s speech and ten times harder to know what sensations still surge through her body. Yet, for some reason, Mom has not forgotten what the words “birthday”‘ and “party” mean. She was very happy for my sister when she observed a birthday weeks ago. The mention of my November birthday also made Mom smile. Whenever there is any event resembling a party, Mom’s light goes on and stays lit. Sweets delight her, sparkly things make her smile, and music gets her clapping. How is it that a disease that wiped out her vocabulary and coordination permits her to feel these moments of joy?

During the past seven-years, we have observed a transformation as my mother transitioned from a high stress executive workplace to a cushioned chair with sturdy arms. Much of her old personality has been erased, but the process has been so gradual, it’s hard to believe we are looking at the same person. This change has been as mysterious as the slow growth of an infant who, one day, goes off to college.

We are very fortunate to have her with us for one more birthday. I think it’s most important to cherish her momentary happiness and turn away any thoughts of what she’s lost. Happy birthday, Mom. May your winter dreams be filled with sweet visions and enchanting delights!