What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

On June 21, Mary’s oldest daughter visited from Oregon to take care of Mary while I “vacationed” by taking care of the youngest daughter’s farm while she was working at a music festival for several days. I have done this several times in the past - “past” meaning when I was a bit younger and less decrepit. But I recovered, and on the 27th, Mary went for her vacation to a local assisted-living facility, while the daughters and I spent a few days cleaning house and pondering how to make this caregiving situation work.

As many of you know, I have not been getting paid for taking care of Mary, and my social security is pretty meager, so this winter was tough until the Caregifting blessing was bestowed on me. So the big issue for discussion, given that Mary has no assets, was How To Keep Kristin in Place. Through the magic of a line of credit, it was discovered that I could, indeed, by paid a small amount, enough to at least buy food.

So here’s where the learning part came in: I was asked to commit to taking care of Mary for the duration of her aware life. In other words, she might be put into a nursing home if she becomes so unaware of her surroundings that the effort and money it takes to keep her here is not worth it, or if she becomes bedridden (the most likely outcome, given her physical decline over the past year). If  neither of  these situations occurs, I need to be here to take care of her.

What this led to was an assessment of my relationship with Mary, of my plans for the future,  and of my commitment to my own development as a Good Caregiver. It was this last that tipped the scales in favor of committing to do this. I have been so inspired by the stories I have read here that I feel ashamed sometimes at how far I fall short of even being even a Fairly Good Caregiver.

I really am learning (learning; I’m not there yet) to love Mary as a human being, and want to give her the best life possible, for whatever time she has left. This is hard to remember when she is screaming at me to let her sit around in her poop or pee, or when she raises her  fists at me when I want to fix her colostomy bag right (she is frail but has surprisingly strong hands and arms!). But I do understand what motivates her at these times, and want to make her more comfortable with receiving help. How I do this comes from what I learn from instinct and professional training, but mostly  from what I learn from Caregivers. For how to  talk to a 2-year-old in and 85-year-old body, the only wisdom comes from others who are doing it.

It was one thing to think about doing this for two years, as we originally estimated. But to seriously (you know, like in real life, not in idealistic imaginings) commit to Indefinite is a leap I really hadn’t imagined until I learned what other caregivers are capable of. I doubt I’ll ever measure up to the best, but the challenge is enticing.

(Editor’s Note: You can listen to Kristin talk more about her relationship with Mary when she joined me on a recent episode of Your Caregiving Journey. You can listen to the show via the player below.)

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5 thoughts on “What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

  1. Trish

    Kristin, In my opinion, it is always a good thing to strive to be a better person but you sell yourself too short. I can only speak for myself but I don’t know that I could care for a family friend to the extent you do (no matter what great favor they did me in the past). The people I know here care for their loved ones — people they have either grown up with or married. Everyone here is amazing and special and so loving and has so much to teach but I include you in that group. It can’t be easy to care for someone (and commit to someone) that is not even someone who raised you or married you or is otherwise related to you.

    I’m glad you were able to work something out with the famly so they can pay you a little something. I look forward to reading more about your journey with Mary. Thanks for sharing this.

    caregiving. family. advocacy.

  2. Avatar of DeniseDenise

    Hi Kristin–From my perspective, there’s so much more we can learn from you! (I’ll email you tomorrow to schedule our next show.)

    I had a “ah-ha!” moment in reading your post. We know that sharing stories can be powerful to the teller and listener for many reasons, including for inspiration. You are so right: We each inspire each other, to hang in there, to solve, to be better.

    Our ability to inspire each other can not be underestimated. So, in the sharing of stories, we comfort, we problem-solve, we understand and, amazingly, we inspire. How about that!! Sounds like you had a good summer vacation. :)

  3. Bette

    Hi Kristin,
    I am so inspired by you, and your ability to continue – to not only move forward in caring for Mary, but in challenging yourself within caregiving as well.

    It is one thing to know that a hard (not a strong enough word at times) situation can change us and others around us for the better, and another to allow that to happen.

    Your willingness to grow and your kindness to Mary and her family, is such a strong picture to me of how caring for someone can be an experience that enriches.

    Thank you Kristin for sharing your strength – which provides me with added strength.

    You are a gift to Mary and to her girls. They, like us, are truly blessed.

  4. G-J

    Mary, I think it’s one thing when you are caring for a family member, and another, when like you are, caring for someone who not only isn’t a family member but isn’t always cooperative. I really admire you!

    And this really isn’t my business, but if money is so tight you have to use a line of credit to buy food, why isn’t Mary’s family helping you with that?

    Also, my son also commented many times on what a strong grip older, frail people have, as if they are holding on for dear life!

  5. kristin

    There may have been a glitch in my repsonse to the above comments, so I will resubmit. I think you for your kind comments. Whatever I am trying to achieve will only be possible, I believe, through this connection. Caregiving.com has been my greatest teacher in this endeavor.
    G-J, the line of credit is not mine, but the kids’. They own this house. I have wanted to suggest this option to them, but it really had to be their idea. Thank heavens, one of them finally got it!


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