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.)