Caregiving Demands Setting Priorities

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • My friend, Debbie, and I met for dinner recently when I was on a business trip. I find it’s always good to talk to Debbie about issues that I’m facing with Mom since Debbie was the caregiver for both of her parents. Although neither of her parents (who are now deceased) had Alzheimer’s, Debbie still had to deal with the daily stress of watching both parents lose their vitality and health.

    Debbie and I ended up having a quiet visit in the corner of the restaurant, which was beneficial since my nerves were frayed and I needed a sounding board. I told Debbie about how I got very angry with my father, who was housesitting for me and (along with my brother, Steve) taking care of Mom while I was away.
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    In a phone conversation prior to his arrival, I told my father that I planned for Steve and his girlfriend to stay at Dad’s newly rented (and at this point unfurnished) duplex, which is a half-mile from my home. My father asked why, and I said that parts of my house were unlivable. I could get the common areas easily cleaned up, but getting other rooms in shape for company wasn’t in the cards at that point. Instead, I planned to purchase an air mattress that Steve and his girlfriend could use, knowing that they often went camping and were comfortable with “roughing it.” Pillows, linens, towels, and other necessities would be stacked with the air mattress so that it would be an easy transition.

    Upon hearing my plan, my father made a critical remark about the disarray of my house. In record time, I came unglued, telling my father that I was trying to be the caregiver for Mom as well as maintain professional responsibilities and work on a doctorate. Housekeeping in the common areas was a priority, but there were areas that I had let go because I just did not have the energy to deal with these tasks.

    Sure enough, Debbie understood my frustration. When she was a caregiver, the basement area in her parents’ house (where she lived at that time) looked like a tornado had hit it. In thinking about this commonality, I realized that the time I would use to keep a clean house is now utilized to maintain my mental and emotional equilibrium. After each visit to the nursing home, I once again see how much Mom has declined. Upon returning home from those visits, I find that I need a period of time to mourn what was and to come to terms with what is. And as her decline becomes more rapid, I find that I need more quiet time to wrap my mind around a future without her.

    Debbie agreed with my assessment, noting that she had created “mini-escapes” in order to build a mental shield as she took care of her parents. And these escapes did not include doing some of the more mundane chores.

    What I learned from talking to Debbie is that caregiving places you in a different world. You have to pick your daily priorities, but in doing so, you especially need to give yourself permission to be human. And in being human, you have to give yourself as much time as you need to process the situation with which you are dealing. Watching a loved one’s health decline isn’t easy; in fact, it’s one of the most difficult things that anyone has to do. And in taking on the caregiving role for your loved one, you’ll probably find – like I did- that some things (like spending time with your loved one) become more important, other things (like earning a living) remain important, and still other things (like housekeeping) take a back seat.
Published On: October 19, 2006