July 27 – Life with a Caregiver

by Judy Alter

Much is written about the hardships and dedication of caregivers, and I am the first to applaud them. Been there, done that with my mother who slid into dementia in her eighties, and I don’t feel I did it as gracefully or kindly as I should have. But now my daughter is my caregiver, and I thought it time to share the other side of the story, along with some of what I’ve learned, I hope, about being a gracious recipient of care.

About a year ago the pain in my left hip got to the point that I rarely walked. I lived on a Rollator, a walker with a seat and wheels, I had hip revision surgery. My hip had been deteriorating for years and had a severe deformity.

I was unable to care for myself, and the burden fell on Jordan, my youngest daughter. By the time of my surgery, I was living in a cottage behind my house, and Jordan, her husband and son were and are living in the house..

I was selfish and demanding. When you’re deep into pain, it’s hard to think about much besides yourself. I greeted her with a list of needs and wants, until she gently (well, usually) suggested that I let her sit a minute before hitting her with a list.

I’ve learned to remember I am not her only responsibility. She has a husband, a child, a career. I learned not to be critical when she came home from the store with the wrong items. And I learned that sometimes she is tired and needs comfort as much as I do.

I try to give as much as I take, to make her family glad that I’m close. A cheerful attitude requires growing beyond self-pity. I’m happy when I’m included in restaurant plans and parties, but I respect that they need some time to be a family. And I’ve learned to treasure my solitude (in reasonable doses).

These days I’m about 75% self-sufficient. I tend to my personal needs, cook my meals, dress myself, and work at my desk, keeping my writing career alive. I entertain, often for a happy hour with heavy hors d’oevres, though Jordan fixes a mean antipasto platter a lot, and I dine out with friends who are good enough to fetch me. I cannot walk unassisted, nor can I drive.

As Jordan said, we have become more like roommates than mother and daughter. But we have worked hard at it and had some spectacular squabbles along the way. For instance, we enjoy our shared shopping trips, as long as my list isn’t too long and her time not too short. Stars shine in her crown. I’m grateful for the love and continuing care of all my children, but Jordan is a rare gift.

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West and now has turned her attention to the late nineteenth century in her home town, Chicago, to tell the story of the lives of Potter and Cissy Palmer, a high society couple with differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. She blogs at http://judys-stew.blogspot.ca/

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8 responses to “July 27 – Life with a Caregiver

  1. How lucky you are to have her around! Sounds like you have a special relationship!

  2. I resonated with this for many reasons. Having had a hip replacement being one reason. The chronic pain before the surgery was something like I had never experienced before. However, surgery was very successful. My older sister was also the primary caregiver for our mother they had very similar dynamics in that relationship. A very challenging time of life for both parent and child.

  3. How lucky you are to have Jordan and a loving family, Judy. And how astute of you to notice your own problematic behavior and learn to temper it. These are not easy times for any of you, but you seem to be navigating them with grace. Your story is an inspiration to us all.

  4. What a wonderful example of learned empathy, Judy. When the shoe is on the other foot, one’s perspective does a 180. You are blessed to have Jordan so near. I think suffering teaches us kindness and compassion, which you have in spades. So glad you’re feeling better. I will certainly remember your story if I need a hip replacement in the future. How well we learn from one another. Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Memories of caregiving for my incredibly sweet mom. Judy, I appreciated your honesty is what it was like for you, and how you learned how you wanted to be. While you are lucky to have a Jordan in your life, she is lucky to have you for a mom.

  6. I took care of my mother, too, Judy. And like you, I wasn’t always as graceful or kind as I might have been. (Nonetheless, I know it was a blessing for her to be here with me, rather than in a nursing home.) Chronic pain – my mom had it, and I had it before my hip replacement – really impacts us, and I’m sure your kids recognize that, especially now that you’re feeling so much better. But it’s important to see our own flaws, and change if we can, so it’s great that you have learned to consider your daughter’s needs. It’s definitely a blessing to have family that stays close and helps out. So glad you have Jordan, and her family, to be right there for you.

  7. A good post. Self-awareness goes a long way in viewing a situation in many lights. Pain is nasty business for all and is far-reaching. Good to keep expressing yourself with the writing. I hope you have shared this with your daughter.

  8. face what you know

    Well put Judy! I think as we age we all have some fears about being dependent on others for our basic needs. It is humbling and feels out of character. After all, aren’t we the care givers? That’s how we see ourselves because that is what we have been. I love that you have captured that it is possible to be in need of care AND extend care/empathy to your caregiver.
    Jude Walsh Whelley

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