Monday, July 15, 2013

The Burning Question

The Hospice nurse left a few minutes ago.  He's a real peach.  His name is Andy.  Mom likes him and he certainly knows how to communicate with her.  All pluses in my book.

He examines her and we discuss comfort, medication, and little things to make her days as joyful as possible.  We discuss this blessed heat wave.  He tells me not to worry about food intake, focus on clear fluids.  The room is comfortable he tells me.  He says I'm doing a good job.

Toward the end of the visit he always asks "What's your greatest need today?"  It always sends me sideways.  My snarky side says, "Bring back my 40-year old mother."  My care giver side says, "Help me.  Help her."  My soul weighs in with the honest answer.  That one undeniable response that wells up inside me, "Give me strength."  I try to hide the tears that well up, wishing them to the back of my eyeballs.

Many folks stumble through life buying this and that telling themselves they NEED it. Gotta have it
The thought of what lies ahead in the weeks to come demands strength.  The might to put my needs aside, yet the determination to take care of myself for her.  The strength to transfer her from bed to commode without spraining my back.  The fortitude to hold patience up as Mom clatters on about subject matter unknown to me when all I want to do is run back to the safe space of my writing, or my knitting.  The restraint to say, "It's OK, you don't have to eat", rather than do battle with her in an energy sapping conflict.  And at the end, I hope I'm strong enough to say, "It's OK, Mom, you can go now.  I'll be alright" and mean it.  All that and more takes backbone.  Not the might of Hercules, but a different sacred, loving, will power.

I never understood my greatest need until today.

So, what's your greatest need


  1. My sister shared this with me, because I'm my mother's caregiver. I struggle daily with everyday things, and she is still in very good shape. What will I do when she can no longer do the little things she does now? I feel bad for missing my life before caregiver. The freedom, travel, friends, days off, and so much more. I'm 66 and in 22 years could be where she is now. How do I make the most of both our lives with the time we have left?

    1. Thank you for writing, Anonymous. My first question to you has to be, "How are YOU feeling?" Caregiver stress has serious consequences. You have to take care of you in order to take care of her. It's that important to both of you.

      Now, the short answer to your situation is COMMUNICATION.

      Since I have a corporate background I used the team approach six years ago to organizing the gnarly stuff. My team works like this: Mom (CEO), Me (Chief Operating Officer), Doctor (Medical Director), Priest or Chaplain (Spiritual Director), and Friend Social Worker (Social Services). If anyone on this team doesn't play well, buh bye. Now's the time to organize your team, including powers of attorney (medical & financial), a succession plan (God forbid something happens to you, who'll take care of Mom?), investigate funeral homes (once it's planned time becomes sweeter), and does she have a Will, etc., etc.

      Now's the time for you and Mom to talk about these things and also to collect memories, special dialogue between mothers and daughters, ask her what her wishes are. These are loving times for both of you.

      If she's in good shape, then live now. Does she have friends or relatives who could stay with her whilst you visit friends? For me, a simple 30-minute coffee date feels like a three week vacation. What about respite care? Respite allows the caregiver a break. The elder spends a weekin a nursing home, allowing you to travel and, well, breathe.

      What are your passions? Can you take online courses to advance them? Can Mom stay home alone? Is there a local senior center where she can establish new friends and enjoy activities now? How 'bout Adult Day Care? The elder goes to day care in the morning and you can pick her up in the evening allowing you time with friends?

      Please first and foremost take care of yourself. You are doing a terrific job. I know you are. Don't be too hard on yourself. Make lists with mini-tasks on them. Instead of "clean the kitchen" write down "do the dishes" little by little you'll grab that tiger by the tail as it won't be too overwhelming.

      Hope this helps. Thank you again for sharing!


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