Saturday, March 29, 2008

Taking Care of the Caretakers

A number of years ago I tucked a refrigerator magnet into my daughter-in-law's Christmas stocking. It said, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" In retrospect, I don't think she understood what I was saying. I think we found one of those unexpected cultural gaps and she heard me telling her that it was her role to keep ME happy. In fact, I was trying to tell her to take care of herself in between taking care of three teens, three pre-schoolers, and a much younger husband.

My friend Jo Ann needs to find ways to take care of herself. She is the wife and sole caretaker of a spinal chord injury patient who came home this week for the first time since his accident. She needs to find a way to sleep a full seven uninterrupted hours. She needs to find things she can do at home that please her, but which can be put down whenever and picked up two hours or two weeks later without loosing her place or train of thought. She needs someone to take in a meal occasionally, someone to visit, someone to do routine stuff like put the machines (the dish washer, washing machine, vacuum cleaner) to work. She needs someone else to take care of the yard so that she can concentrate on her husband. She needs to understand that she cannot do the things her husband needs if she is exhausted and resentful of the time and energy he requires.

I am reminded that I, too, need to take care of myself when I am thrilled just by walking at a brisk pace. I am reminded when I find an able-bodied someone to share a shopping trip, a day in the library, or an afternoon at the Art Academy. I am reminded when I enjoy listening to the teen-agers on the City bus.

And I am reminded when it takes several days to get beyond my father's criticism that I spend too much time on the telephone. Excuse me? What does he expect me to do with my life? You don't make a lot of new friends taking your parents to the doctor. Or to the grocery store. Most of my friends are somewhere else. They -- YOU -- are an essential part of my support system. I need to visit with you periodically. Besides, it's MY telephone, not theirs. I use it when there is nothing else planned, in the empty hour of time here or there, and especially on weekends. I don't use it in the living room while he is there. I shut the door to my bedroom when I am talking inside. I try to do a lot of my conversing outside so I won't be intruding on his space -- or my mother's space. I've even gone to the mall to make telephone calls. I've learned to multi-task -- do routine household chores like setting the table, filling the washing machine or emptying waste baskets one-handed so they get done despite my being on the telephone. (The NEXT phone, due in June, will be Blue-Tooth ready!) But my calls last more than the alloted 1 minute, and therefore are offensive to him.

Then there's the issue of recycling. My father won't. Won't compost. Won't consider a less polluting vehicle. Won't hold garden waste until green garbage day. Won't plan ahead to cluster his tasks. Won't consider public transportation. Won't conserve water. Won't recycle plastic. Won't use energy-efficient CF lighting. But today is Turn Out the Lights night in support of the fight against global warming, and he was offended that Mother -- who is extraordinarily proactive in issues of environmental protection-- wouldn't turn out the lights.

A wise and experienced lady told me this morning, "Honey, that's all senile behavior. Don't let it get the better of you."

Look for the good. Give thanks! Keep praying ........

1 comment:

  1. Oh Bonnie! I did not know you loved the phone. I do too, Dennis hates to talk on it but I too spend a lot of time with good conversations. I can see that it is time for you to go to CA for a while and get back to taking care of you. It is very hard to be a caregiver and it sounds like you are a very tolorant and an exceptional one. What a good daughter you are to spend so much of your time helping your parents. It seems when they reach a certain age they feel that we owe them everyting and they expect us to drop everything at their whim and they feel they can say anything that comes to mind because they have passed that age milestone that give them the privilage to say whats on their mind no matter who it hurts and there should be no repercutions of what they have said because they are of a certain age. Wow could you tell I had that experience with my Mom?
    Hang in there you will be in CA soon and before you know it you will be back in Kahala rejuvinated and ready for another 6 months of being the great daughter you are.
    Tutu Linda


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