How to Be an Elder Care Giver without Giving Up Your Life

How to Be a Care Giver

My mother recently turned 90 years old.  Like many children with elderly parents, my older brother and I are her primary care givers.  For several years after our step-father died in 2003, my brother saw to her medicine, medical appointments, hair dresser visits and other needs.  He noticed the steady decline of her capacity to manage her finances, do grocery shopping and other daily affairs.  He requested that I play a bigger role in 2008, when she was still driving.  She wasn’t eating adequately and began to have more episodes of being unable to remember how to get back home.  When I closed my physical therapy clinic in 2010, I moved out of Detroit into Canton; that location served two purposes.  I got myself back into an environment I loved as a child and it brought me miles closer to her home in rural Sumpter Township which is south of Detroit Metro Airport.

I wanted to be a loving caring daughter to my Mom, because she had always been a good person to me, my siblings and others.  However, dementia alters how a person presents themself.  I believed that my profession as a physical therapist, daily working with seniors affected with this condition, prepared me for what her medical needs were.  I also believed that I had sufficient patience to walk her through her golden years with kindness and compassion.  What I told my brother and promised in my heart was that I would not give up my own personal life to become her “ultimate 100% available care giver”.  The fear in my ego mind was that my brother would back away as I stepped into my new weekly duties of shopping, meals, personal care and medical appointments.  I wanted to finish my new degree in Environmental Management and have a life filled with love, joy, travel and adventure.  I told him that I wouldn’t put my life on “lock down”.

I was also, at the time of this move, providing care to a dear friend who was battling against cancer for her life.  She lost the battle last year in October, while living with her daughter.  I had enough to keep me busy and then I met my soul mate in January of 2013.  What could be better?  Well my relationship with my mother certainly needed some improvement by then.

After my brother and I retrieved our mother from the protection of the Napoleon, Ohio police, in December of 2011, because she got lost, we brought her driving activities to a dead end.  That meant church and any other place she needed to go to, I’d be taking her.  To this day, she asks about her car and wants to know why it’s not in the garage, in spite of the multiple times that she’s been told that the car was junked when repairs were too expensive.  No matter the number of times she’s had this question answered, there’s no recall for her.  Her mind is in a different place, space, time and experience.  I understand better what this difference of time, space and place means for our interactions as a result of reading some concepts in a book my fiancé recently introduced to me.

Inspired by concepts written by authors Nouk Sanchez and Thomas Vieira in their book “Take Me to Truth, Undoing the Ego”, I discovered a key to helping me become a better care giver to my Mom.  I kept noticing myself losing my patience and sometimes my temper with her incessant redundant questions, insisting that she was in Georgia not Michigan, telling me that she didn’t need my help for anything (oblivious to the fact that she stopped cooking for herself in 2006), and totally disregarding that all her meals were cooked by me and my sister-in-law.  I didn’t like my emotional roller coaster while providing this necessary service to my mother.  There had to be a better way and I found it in “Take Me to Truth”.

Although it helped to remind myself that she didn’t choose to be in this condition, compassion generated from pity doesn’t last long.  On days when I needed to be alone, didn’t feel well or just needed some TLC myself, my patience and temper weren’t worth a penny.  Sanchez and Vieira provided this insight for perspective, “When we take offense it is usually because we are personally identified with something such as an idea, belief, or opinion that is not consistent with who we are.” (page 48).  Certainly my mother and I are, moment by moment, not in agreement with who I am and who she is and thus; what is “real” in time, place and space.  She believes she’s in Valdosta, Georgia, or that she cooked her meal, or her car should be in the garage or a mired of other unrealities in our “Now Moments”.   I try to get her on to the same page of orientation with me and she resists, strongly, passionately.  I now realize that her resistance is due to her fear that her reality isn’t real. She is afraid to accept mine because her past experiences of trust tells her that trusting others is dangerous.  “The truth, of course, is that nothing real can be threatened.”  Only I can use this “Truth” that the authors provided.  Only I can look again and realize that my reality is not threatened by her beliefs, ideas or opinions.  I fully understand what is meant in the authors’ conclusion on this topic, “…what is it that the ego is defending against?  Whatever it may be, it must not be real because Truth never needs defending.”   With that Truth in my consciousness, I can always compassionately speak kindly to where she is and invite her to join me where I am.  I say, “The battles between us are over.”

Mom can’t remember what day it is, but she remembers to leave the porch light on for me if I’m not home before dark.  She tells me when I step in the door how relieved she is that I returned safely.  Her truth is that I’m not safe until I’m home with her.  That’s motherly love.  She gets angry when I pack my bags to go spend a few days with my fiancé.  For her, my leaving the house is reminiscent of when her parents sent her, as a three year old, to live with grandparents in Georgia, during the Great Depression.  She remembers the internalized “little girl pain” of separation, fear of relocation, the sense of rejection and abandonment, and the resentment of being sent away as though she were not wanted.  Today, I meet that little girl daily.  Since opening my heart to the reality that her Truth has a time and space that is usually out of synch with mine, I’ve found a “Self-renewing Compassion” that invites her little girl to join me in my now moments.  Moments I am learning to make safe for her because I can hear her pain like never before.  I can be approachable for this wounded soul, like never before and it has altered how we interact.

Usually getting her to take a shower, or allow me to check her feet, as diabetics need to do daily, has been a big battle.  However, I approached her yesterday, about the need to examine her feet because I’d noticed how swollen her feet and ankles were last week.  I explained that I was concerned that her dry skin may be cracking and going unnoticed.  She at first just looked sternly at me and told me that she was just fine.  When I asked her did she realize that she had not had a shower in several days and that this was causing her skin to be very dry and putting her at risk of infections, she didn’t respond.  This was a good sign that she wasn’t going to battle with me.  So I asked could we check her feet to see how they were doing, and she agreed.  Once we had dealt with the problems detected which included soaking, bathing and applying medication and lotion to her feet, we hugged and she thanked me for being concerned.  Talk about a 360˚ turn around in behavior… that was it!

No matter the situation, the complaint or the opinion of the ego, Sanchez and Vieira assures the reader that “FEAR” not “LOVE” is the motivating factor that causes disruptions in the affairs of humans all over the planet (pg. 39).  Who could argue with that?  I owe it to my mother and my brother to be the best care giver I can (that’s my fearless opinion).  He has not neglected his duties to Mom, nor has he been unmindful of his sister’s need for “me time”.  We have a good partnership in caring for our mother.

I believe love makes this world a better place to live in.  My fiancé and I are opening our hearts to each other so that the vibrations of love emanate from us into the hearts of those close to us to enrich their experiences with us.  We are convinced this type of giving, living and loving has infinite capacity for healing and is unstoppable.  Being a loving care giver to my mother is within my capacity as long as I stay aware of my ego and present to her need to be invited back into the Now Moments with me.  Hugs and words of reassurance have increased the softness in both of us toward each other.  I now feel confident that I can be the kind and compassionate care giver my mother deserves in her golden years.  I’m learning to shut my ego out and keep my heart open to the love in the present moment.

Chenyere Yisrael

March 23, 2014

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