Notes from a Caretaker

24 Jun

Last night I made dinner as I usually do, cooking baked macaroni and barbequed pork sandwiches because the menu is one of my mom’s favorites. Then I set the table, calling her into dinner from her bedroom at the back of the house.

“Who’s missing tonight?” she asked cheerily as she came into the dining area on her mobility scooter, surveying the dinner table.

“What?” I asked.

“You’ve set the table for only two. What about Rosie and Daddy and Jackie…?”

It was as though she had thrown freezing water into my face. Because those people – her father and two sisters – had died a couple of decades ago.

If you want to know the reason I haven’t been writing my blog lately, that’s why. My mom recently turned ninety and she seems to be rapidly dropping all her marbles. I’ve taken care of her for ten years now because she suffers from arthritis in most parts of her body, particularly in her knees, and she has become almost immobile. I moved back from New York City to care for her because she had suffered a debilitating fall, and when I thought about it back then I never imagined that I’d be doing it a decade later.

Ten years.

Ten years of being butler, driver, parlor maid and cook. Ten years of being turned into that most woeful of professions, not to mention one of the least paid – the care-giver. Ten years of being estranged from my friends (she doesn’t like visitors), ten years of making beds and cleaning toilets, of eating at five o’clock in the afternoon (because she has always eaten at five o’clock in the afternoon), and going to bed at 7:30 from sheer boredom. Worst of all I’ve been years out of the job market, neglecting my own retirement needs. I used to be able to go into town and stay overnight with friends, or go away for a weekend. Not anymore.

Recently I went to the movies. I was gone for no more than three hours. When I returned home, I found her terrified. “Where were you?” she demanded. “I was alone all afternoon, and no one called me – not even Mother.” Do I need to mention that her mother died in 1971? Does this mean that I can’t even go to the movies now?

The only thing that made the situation remotely tolerable in these last ten years was the fact that she had remained witty, sharp and intellectually stimulating. She read a book a day and devoured the news magazines, all the while railing vigorously against those bastard Republicans. She swore like a sailor – in fact, she was a sailor, having been in the Navy WAVES during World War II.

I convinced myself that the situation was good for my writing career, and indeed produced two modest best sellers during this time, all the while supplementing my income with museum and exhibit design – work I could do from home. But recently, along with the economy, my writing career has lost its traction. It seems like I am being slowly strangled here at home and my concentration suffers because of it. My life used to be a rich tapestry of color and design; now it’s a gray, disheveled bathmat. As a result, I go through bouts of resentful anger and depression that almost kill me, because now that she’s losing her mind, the only pleasure I could take from the situation is disappearing along with it.

As Stevie Smith might say, “…not waving, but drowning.”

And I’m terrified.

11 Responses to “Notes from a Caretaker”

  1. livingwater2009Tima June 25, 2012 at 3:52 am #

    Hi Brad, Surely it is difficult and there are sacrifices to be made when we care for a loved one. My Dad had dementia for 5 years before he passed away. He died last year and I miss him still. This too shall pass! Hang in there.

    • Brad Geagley June 25, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

      Yes, it’s difficult. And sometimes I think the only ones who know how difficult are the ones who’ve gone through it. Thanks for writing and for your support.

  2. Vikki (The View Outside) June 25, 2012 at 4:04 am #

    (((((hugs))))) :(

    Xx

    • Brad Geagley June 25, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      Thank you so much. ((((hugs)))) back to you.

  3. Karen June 25, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Wow, what an honest post. We never think of the way we will have to care for our parents as they age…I don’t know you and have only been recently reading your blog, but somewhere deep inside, you must know the universe will repay the dedication you’ve shown your mother. Good luck…and keep writing.

    • Brad Geagley June 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

      Karen – I’m so glad I wrote. I hope you’re right about the universe…I feel like I’ve been paving a road into Heaven, brick by brick. Thanks so much for reading.

      • Karen June 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

        You’re welcome. Best of luck.

  4. likeitiz June 26, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    I don’t know what to say, Brad. I’ve been through two i-laws getting really sick and then after a few years, they passed away. It was long and drawn out for one and only a few months for the other. But the saving grace was there were several of us taking turns. You’re by yourself, it looks. Is there no one else who can pitch in? No other family? I know what you’ll say. That she’s picky and she does not want other people. Well, I know someone who was in that situation and he’s divorced now. His kids also don’t bother to see him anymore either. The elderly have their biases, their fears, etc. but I believe that to give in to these only reinforces the fears and their curmudgeony selves. And the need for control of some aspects of their lives when they are losing control over other aspects of it. You and your life for one. Good luck. I hope you will continue to have the patience and perseverance.

  5. Elizabeth Hall Magill June 26, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    Watching a parent decline while caring for her must be exceedingly difficult–i can’t begin to know what that is like. But I do know about the loss of self when one is in a caretaker role–I stopped working to become a stay-at-home mom nearly ten years ago. When my children were young I had some health problems, and lost a great deal of autonomy to my body and the bodies of my children. Slowly, I’ve learned the lesson that every caretaker must learn: care for yourself too. Sometimes, care for yourself first. To do this, you need help–someone to give you a respite (free respite if you can get it; paid if you cannot). I also know what it’s like to try to write in the free spaces around caring for others–I finished my first novel while at home and have been trying to publish it/build a career. From this, I have learned the introvert’s lesson: get out more, remember fun, remember yourself. Caring for yourself is an act of love–for yourself and for your mom. I wish you and your mom the very best, and will keep you in my thoughts.

  6. Dawn Pisturino June 29, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    I watched my parents go through this with my Dad’s mom. My father’s blood pressure went through the roof, and my mother ended up having a heart attack. It was awful. We were all happy when my grandmother finally passed away. And my aunt never recovered from taking care of her mom. She ended up losing her marbles altogether. So sad. At what point does it become a case of them or us?

  7. catherinebowman July 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    *sighs softly and hugs* I am terrified of doing that to my children. I live with 6 chronic pain conditions and dementia runs in my family. If it comes down to it, I’d rather they put me in a home than suffer the same fate as you. We do these things for love but sometimes, some days… it’s not enough, is it?

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