Like many family caregivers, I spend a lot of time anticipating my parents’ needs and behaviors so that I’m prepared to address them. Mentally playing and replaying possible scenarios often consumes my thoughts and keeps me up at night. I subconsciously do this to develop an appropriate response and temper my emotions — or so I sometimes think. Other times, I think I am doing too much.
I have read, researched and completed courses to learn more about caregiving, dementia, stroke impacts and geriatrics. However, what I have learned from my own experiences and those of my caregiver friends has been far greater.
I often find it necessary to debrief with my husband and reflect on our interactions with and responses to my parents. Right now, I’m working through appreciating the gifts I’ve received on this caregiving journey — a reflection I thought may help others.
THE GIFT OF NOW
While we cannot redo, undo or fix what happened yesterday, we can affect the present and future. Therefore, I have begun appreciating the “gift of now” — living in the moment and removing some of the pressure I place on myself and on my parents’ behavior.
When I arrive in the mornings and momma’s briefs didn’t quite reach her waist, I gently adjust them and make jokes instead of exhaling a deep sigh of disappointment and aggravation. Compassion and humor help relieve frustration and remind me that her condition causes confusion and sometimes robs her of her ability to do things in the proper order. My response also reduces the embarrassment I’m sure it causes her.
THE GIFT OF PATIENCE
I also am working on the “gift of patience.” Daddy can make you cuss with his stubbornness and occasional uncooperativeness. However, I have learned that if I approach him assertively, aggressively or hurriedly, he locks into his behavior and makes it difficult for me to accomplish things. Rushing him makes him uncomfortable because he is not able to process what he should do next.
The other day, I was sitting with him as he bathed to ensure he could exit the tub safely. He washed and re-washed repeatedly, getting caught in his “loop.” Then, he stopped actively washing and pondered whether he’d already washed his lower legs and feet.
Although I don’t think he was talking to me, I answered and encouraged him to finish. Shortly after, I told him that he was done and pulled the drain plug. He quickly and forcefully exclaimed, “Put that back!” A few minutes later, he suggested — almost insisted — that I join momma in the front room.
Although I declined, I adjusted my behavior and decided to exercise a little patience. I settled into my seat and let him spend some time in his loop. Although I was tired and ready to go home, I resolved to just support him.
THE GIFT OF WISDOM
Although my parents live with a form of dementia, I still appreciate their “gift of wisdom.” Although momma rarely cooks anymore, she still provides guidance and recipes. When I ask her how long something should cook, she always responds, “Until it’s done.” When I probe for more detail, she only will tell me how to notice when it’s done instead of sharing an approximate cooking time. That has taught me to slow down and pay attention rather than focus on a clock.
THE GIFT OF GRATEFULNESS
There isn’t a day that passes when my parents don’t thank us for caring for them. Daddy thanks me when I hand him his coffee. Momma softly says, “Thank you!” when I place a blanket around her. And as I leave, even if I haven’t placed a blanket or served coffee, they still thank me and tell me they love me.
Even when he is uncooperative, Daddy still declares his love and sometimes says, “Thank you for your sacrifice, baby girl.” Their gratefulness makes this journey worth it.
What gifts are you thankful for during this holiday season?