It became clear to me when I returned home for a visit with my elderly mother that there would be no escaping the question of what to do about Mom. The time had come, the signs were obvious. She could no longer manage to be alone in her big home. The chores, the mail, the bills, the lawn, the cats, the care of what needed to go into her, had all gotten to be too much for her to handle on her own.
After seeing the condition of each bedroom, four of them being used as attics, along with her Master which was a perfect picture in a “before and after” makeover scenario, hers being the “before”, it took me only a weekend of uncoiling messes left behind from ants, cats, and other critters to realize that I would be the one who would become caregiver for our mother.
We all knew her greatest wish was to remain in her own home for the duration. Looking into her worried pale blue eyes, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t give to keep her feeling safe in her home and well cared for the rest of her years ahead, so I gave up everything to move back into my childhood home.
My mind began racing with questions: How to purge a home filled with decades of clutter, while preserving childhood memories? How to make her money last and where are all her assets? What is this filing system of hers that keeps mail tucked under beds and stuffed into shoeboxes on shelves? What legal documents are still not in place? Is she being forgetful, or are we dealing with the warning signs of something worse? What are her wishes to be carried out beyond her death? What would make her happiest today?
And much later, I would be asking other questions. How can I make her comfortable? How much time do we have? How can I possibly say goodbye?
I wish someone had prepared me for what I experienced in this undertaking. I would have still said yes to the job, but I would have had a better idea of what the job entailed. Nobody says yes to Firefighting, or Nursing, or the FBI, or the Army without asking a few questions up front about what a typical day at work is like. Yes, it was stressful. Yes, it was also joyful. Yes, it was scary, and hard, absolutely the hardest bullet point I can now list under work experience. Yes, it was my privilege. Yes, I did it because I knew no one else could or would, and because I believed my father would have wanted to know his beloved wife of fifty-four years was not going to have to go it alone.
The realities of what I learned are chronicled in my second book, a non-fiction narrative called 9 Realities of Caring for an Elderly Parent: A Love Story of a Different Kind. Slated for release in August 2013, this is a funny, compassionate, and daunting account of what you can expect if you are the adult child coming home to care for your elderly parent until the very end.
Designed to be an indispensable guide, it will help you through nine chapters dealing with early topics like keeping your parent safe in their own home, to middle chapters centering on waiting for death and the important role that bowel movements and bedsores will play in the end. The final third of the book deals with the aftermath, including funeral arrangements that are pre-designed, and managing as executor of the estate. Grief counseling for the adult orphan is the last chapter.
I am so sorry you have to go through it. But, my intention in writing this is that it will be a support to you if you have no other.
Blog question: What do you wish you had known before assuming the role as caregiver to your elderly parent?