Moments in Caregiving – Multitasking

multi tasking

As a caregiver I had many days like this. Soon you will be able to read about them  in my book, Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver, scheduled for release by OpenBooks Press in July 2014.

If you have a Moment in Caregiving you’d like to share, you are invited to reply in the box below. I’d love to hear from you.

Advertisements

Easter With Rodger

The following is an excerpt from my book, Confessions of An Imperfect Caregiver, soon to be published by Open Books Press. It seems fitting to share this moment as Easter approaches.

Easter Cross

***

“The aroma of pasta sauce and roasting chicken wafted through the house. A beautiful apple pie rested on the kitchen counter. I hummed “Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail” as I adjusted my best tablecloth before going to the china cabinet and getting three place settings, consisting of dinner plate, salad plate, and bread plate. After carefully placing the proper utensils next to the plates, I added a water glass and a delicate wine goblet and stepped back to admire the table. Mike had folded cloth napkins into delicate winged swans to be placed in the center of the dinner plates. Silver candlesticks flanked a beautiful flower arrangement that complimented the décor perfectly. Just before calling the men to dinner, I’d cut the pie and placed three pieces on matching dessert plates, ready to be served when the time came.

Rodger had looked pleased when Mike and I went into his sitting room and presented him with his Easter basket that morning.

“Happy Easter,” we greeted him.

“Happy Easter,” he replied. “What’s all this?”

“It’s some Easter candy to sweeten your day,” I said.

“They don’t have Easter candy in the old country. Easter is a religious day. Everybody goes to church,” Rodger said.

“It’s a religious holiday for people here too,” I explained. “But we also have the traditional Easter baskets.”

“Do I have to go to church?” he asked. “I only go to church when somebody marries or dies.”

“You don’t have to go to church if you don’t want to,” Mike assured him. “Enjoy your candy and join us later for dinner in the dining room. Bobbi is making a special dinner.”

“Who’s coming? Do I have to take a shower?”

“No one is coming. It will be the three of us. But it would be nice if you took a shower. You’ll be nice and clean for dinner.”

“I don’t need to take a shower to eat. I don’t need special food. I eat anything”

“We know you’ll eat anything,” I said. “But on holidays we like to have a special meal. And you don’t have to take a shower today but you will have to take one soon. You need it. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.”

I could tell he was curious about what was going on when he came down to go for a walk and saw the table set in the dining room. He didn’t say anything but spent several minutes looking at it on his way out.
Even the weather was cooperating. The air was warm and the sun was shining. After his walk, Rodger sat on his bench in the front yard and watched the birds flitting between the two feeders hanging from the tree he watched grow from the day we moved in.

He had become a fixture in the neighborhood, taking his three daily walks. He knew when people were moving in and when a house was listed for sale. He kept track of who had dogs and if they barked when he passed by or not. He always let me know when anyone planted something new in their yard and when the Christmas decorations went up. He rarely spoke to anyone, but he knew who lived where and could tell if they changed their routine in any way.

Despite his earlier protest, when I called the men to dinner, Rodger arrived freshly showered and shaved, wearing clean clothes and a shy smile.

“Sit here, Dad,” Mike said as he pulled out the chair at the head of the table.

“Me, here?” he asked.

“Yes, you’re the guest of honor today.”

“Guest of honor. I’m not a guest of honor. I’m not special.”

“You are to us,” Mike and I said at the same time.

Rodger didn’t speak as he filled his dish with chicken and pasta. Nor did he say anything when I passed him a plate of salad and offered him some toasted garlic bread from the napkin-covered serving dish.

“Before we eat, let’s have a toast. Your wine glass has sparkling grape juice so you can drink too,” Mike told his father. “Happy Easter,” he said, raising his glass. “And to Rodger,” he added.

I lifted my glass to my father-in-law and repeated Mike’s toast.

“To Rodger. We’re so pleased you joined us to celebrate today. You look very nice.”

“Thank you,” he said. Then he lifted his fork and began to eat.

Everyone was quiet for several minutes, each lost in thought and enjoying the meal. When Rodger broke the silence and began to speak, Mike and I were stunned to see tears in his eyes.

“I never thought I’d have a meal like this, in a place like this. Everything is beautiful. The food, the dishes, flowers and candles, everything. I feel like a big shot.”

Dabbing at this eyes with his napkin, he looked around the room pointing to the delicately carved chairs and the gleaming china cabinets. He took a few moments to gaze at the framed print hanging on the wall. “Dinner at the Ritz,” it’s called. In it is depicted a group of Victorian ladies dining in their finery at flower-laden tables on a summer afternoon.

“Beautiful ladies,” he said. “Everything is nice. I never thought I’d have anything like this. I can’t believe I’m going to die here. I was born in a big house, and I’m going to die in a big house. Thank you.”

We didn’t know what to say. We had never seen him so touched by anything. We didn’t know he could be moved like that. We were grateful and humbled at the same time. Whatever happened in the future, no matter how hard things got, we’d always have this moment with him.”

***

As time passed and Rodger became more and more ill, I clung to the beauty of that day. That Easter dinner is one of the many moments that convinced me that, despite the ravages of his illnesses, he was still in there somewhere and he appreciated those moments as much as I did.

I Hope Rodger is Smiling Today

Yesterday I signed a contract with Open Books Press to publish my book, Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver, A Daughter-in-Law Tells All. I am thrilled that the story of Rodger and me will be made public. I hope that caregivers everywhere will see a bit of themselves in my imperfections and find some comfort in knowing they are not alone in doing the hardest thing that will ever touch them so deeply or teach them so much.

Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver – A Daughter-in-law Tells All, depicts my seven-year commitment to caring for my mentally and physically ill father-in-law. In the words of Alexandra Axel, Media Director, The Caregiver Space,  “Your writing is beautiful, your story is compelling, and the problems you present to the reader are complex. … I’m loving it… From the bottom of my heart, thank you for putting your experience on the page. I can’t wait to keep reading.”

 

001

 

Shall We Dance? Moments in Caregiving.

waltzing

Image Courtesy of ClipArtBest.com

“I was young once. I remember my mother making polenta before going to church. Later we rolled up the rugs and held dances.”

A smile crossed my father-in-law’s wrinkled face. I pictured him in a room glowing with firelight and dreams. Tango, waltz and foxtrot; somewhere a pretty girl waiting.

Note: This post  was written and inspired by a writing challenge issued by wordpress to tell a story in exactly fifty words. I thank them for bringing this poignant memory to mind. For more on this challenge click here.

 

caregiver card<a

“Fine” Is Not An Answer

“How are things going with Rodger?”
“Fine.”

“It must be hard.”
“It’s fine.”

Are you taking care of yourself?”
“I’m fine.”

“How is Mike dealing with all this?”
“He’s fine.”

“Do the two of you get any time away?”
“No, but we’re fine.”

So often when questioned by people, even the most well-meaning, Caregivers say they are fine. It’s time to stop. FINE is not an answer. It’s what we say when the person asking has no real interest in the answer or has already proven that they are too busy, too disconnected, or too frightened to deal with what’s happening.

Saying we are fine when we are not is a social norm that works most of the time. Why bore someone with details of our life when they are busy with their own problems and they only ask about ours to be polite?

How often do we greet friends or acquaintances with the words, “Hello, how are you?” Both parties know full well that we aren’t asking for details and the proper response is, “I’m fine. How are you?”

As a caregiver I was guilty of saying it all the time. When I was so sleep deprived I could barely function I carried on trying to convince everyone, including myself, that I was fine and I’d sleep when the latest crisis had passed. When month after month of stress took a toll and triggered a panic attack, I breathed through it and went on. “I’m fine now,” I’d say once it was over. After a terrible argument with my husband, brought on by the same lack of sleep and buildup of stress, we patched things up and promised not to let it get to us again. We had a solid, loving marriage and we were simply going through a rough patch that would not last forever. We were fine.

Rodger was declining and his need for care was increasing all the time.
Being a caregiver was very hard.
I was not taking care of myself and the stress was taking a big toll on me.
Mike was not fine no matter how hard he tried to pretend he was.
We needed time away and would have given anything for someone to take over even for one day.

I wonder what would have happened if I had responded truthfully.

“How are things going with Rodger?”
“Not good. He is getting weaker all the time. He hates being dependent and it makes him angry. He takes it out on me.”

“It must be hard.”
“It’s very hard. I feel very alone most of the time. I miss spending time with my friends and the people I used to work with.”

“Are you taking care of yourself?
“There’s no time for that. I had to cancel my last three doctor appointments to rush Rodger to the hospital when one of his illnesses worsened. Most days I eat on the run and shower so fast I barely get wet before I have to dry off and tend to his needs.”

“How is Mike dealing with all this?”
“He is doing the best he can to be there for both Rodger and me and go to work every day. On the weekends he does all the shopping and runs all the errands that need to be done. He helps with Rodger in the evenings. There is no rest for him either.”

“Do the two of you get any time away?
“No. We need a rest but we don’t know where to turn for help.”

Would anyone have offered help and a bit of respite if I had not kept reassuring people that I was fine? I will never know. You can find out. If anyone asks how things are going, I hope you remember that fine is not an answer and give them a chance to respond to the truth. I’ll be very interested in learning how it goes.

Note: Caregivers with little or no outside support often suffer from depression. Click here to read an article about caregiver depression at Caregiver.com, Coping with Depression: Signs You Might be in Trouble

caregiver card