Five years ago, I started on this caregiver path just as enthusiastically as the crusaders did when marching to the Holy Lands hundreds of years ago.
Really, I know that statement sounds ridiculous, but, it is true. I had energy and desire, I figuratively fought a lot of battles since those early days, and I have been scarred and depleted by them. Just like a crusader.
And I have learned very important lessons that I would have thought impossible in the beginning.
I pick battles carefully.
I can't win them all.
Sometimes I just have to "let go".
Care giving is a marathon, not a sprint. As mom's care required more of my time and energy I began to see the wisdom of picking my battles carefully. Believe me, that was a very hard lesson to learn. Type A personalities (like myself) hate to leave anything undone, or incomplete, or unresolved.
Some of the battles I continue to fight look a lot like this:
- "Yes, you will start this antibiotic. I won't take no for an answer."
- "We will get a stair lift. My house, my stairs, my decision."
- "You will go to the hospital because it isn't acceptable to sit here so short of breath and unable to walk."
You get the picture. Health and safety issues are my battle grounds.
Recently, however, I have taken a more back-seat approach to other lower priority activities. I still believe these priorities are important. I used to fuss at her about doing them. But out of respect for her and to allow some decision making over her own life, I have backed off - let go - on other stuff.
The biggest "letting go" has been her physical activity. This year it has dropped significantly. After a spring hospital discharge, she exercised to get her strength back. She walked every day. She practiced climbing steps. For months I had a schedule, and I made sure she did it all. She did improve greatly. But lately she has backed off on being active. If I don't remind her, she doesn't do it.
She sits a lot.
I have come to believe that there are some things in life you just have to want for yourself. Keeping physically active is one of them. Occasionally I remind her, like today, that if she doesn't keep active, she will get weak - too weak to live in a house with this many steps. Sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn't. But to spend both our lives pushing for an activity level that she is not personally committed to doing is not good for either of us. So I remind her, but I do not badger her.
I have let this battle go.
Another "letting go" relates to mental stimulation. She seems quite content to sit and do nothing. When I began to see this trend toward mental idleness, it bothered me. In checking with her doctor I learned that the need for mental stimulation reduces in some elderly. I should not assume she is unhappy in her idleness. Sometimes I watch her sitting outside. In the middle of the day there are no passing cars or people walking about. Maybe there is a squirrel or two, but it is pretty quiet on my end of the street. And still she seems content to look around and be with her thoughts. I prompt her with puzzles and books, remind her of TV shows she enjoys, chores she needs to do. I suggest, but don't insist that she keep busy.
Here is another battle I have let go.
Several years ago I might have felt that "letting go" was just the same as "giving up." I would require that she continue to keep active mentally and physically. She would agree and make an effort to do whatever I was suggesting. But how much of that was my agenda being forced on her?
Understanding and accepting what mom seems to want for herself has been an evolution for me. As I stand here in my 64 year old body, I know that I want more for myself. More movement, more thinking, more productive activities, more of everything. I believe in the "use it or loose it" way of thinking. But does that mean that my way is the only right way?
I think "letting go" of what I want is a way of respecting her choices - even if they aren't my choices.
Of course, I cannot ignore the fact that her choices will lead eventually to more disability. Inactivity both physically and mentally will lead inevitably to more inactivity. It is a vicious circle.
This, however, is her path to choose.
Sometimes I ponder what path I will choose when my body is not 64 but 84! Will I be able to live up to my own standards? How much of a crusader will I be for my own aging?
Hard lessons, hard questions.
Care Giver and Daughter