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Brief Essays and Comments From the Readers of Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management.

A Caregiver Learns

During the past year, my mother has moved into our home into a suite designed just for her; experienced a compression fracture of the spine; moved into a wonderful assisted living home; and is now hospitalized awaiting a bed in a nursing home.

Aunt Gladys, Mama's older sister, used to say, "Getting old is hell." Her younger siblings would look askance, pretending a little shock at her use of such vulgarity--that is, until they began to feel some of the vestiges of "old age" themselves.

Recently, those same siblings gathered together with other family members to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. More than once, I heard them repeat the famous quote. But Aunt Gladys wasn't around--she died several years ago. And somebody else was missing from the party--my mother. Oh, she was there--physically, at least. Sitting in her wheelchair, smiling a crooked smile, as siblings, nieces, nephews, children and friends wished her a happy day and a happy year. Yet, parts of her were missing.

There are moments of truth for every caregiver--the truth that your loved one is not going to get better, that she will never get "back to normal." My mother's birthday party was such a moment for me. I suddenly realized that she will no longer carry on small talk about this, that and the other. She will no longer share the oft-told stories of our youth. She will no longer instigate the laughter that left tears running down her cheeks. She will no longer remember all the connections of who is kin to whom, who lived in what house, in which community. And, most importantly, she won't be able to remember and share all the little closet skeletons that are part of every family's history.

Now she smiles with half-awareness at her brothers' attempts to joke and tease. She makes a few appropriate inquiries of great-nieces and -nephews--and a few inappropriate remarks. Suddenly her new favorite phrase is, "Well nobody told me about that." What can I do? What can any of us do, as we watch the slow deterioration of the people we love?

I wish I could give caregivers the 10 easy steps to adjusting to the aging of their parents or other loved ones they care for. I wish I could help them avoid those heartbreaking moments--the ones where you run out of patience and end conversations with anger, irritation and frustration. Those moments that can leave you feeling like a heel--or an uncaring son or daughter or caregiver. I can only share some of the insights that I have learned during the past few years.

About five months after my mother had come to live with us I was out of patience, understanding and kindness. Her neverending demands for attention had taken their toll on me, on my marriage and on my career. After: Mass one Sunday morning, as our beloved Monsignor blessed me, I told him that I needed him to pray that I would develop more patience with my mother. As a scholar of language, he replied that the Latin and Greek root word for patience means "to suffer." I laughingly told him I was there! I had suffered indeed!

Monsignor suggested that I use a principle that guided his life with people who challenged his patience. The lesson was this: "Avoid unnecessary criticism and correction."

Pretty simple, yet very profound. During the ensuing months I have worked purposefully to apply this ideal. Consequently, I have been blessed with a closer and deeper relationship with my mother.

Aunt Gladys was right, getting old is hell! It can be painful for those who experience deterioration of not only their bodies, but of their minds. It can be a nightmare for those who care for loved ones as they age. But getting older can be a rich experience for everyone involved. It can be the time in life where we begin to really learn patience and understanding. It can be time for coming together, a time for compassion and, most importantly, a time for accepting life's challenges and changes. It's hell, but perhaps a little bit of heaven, too.

Shirley Garrett, EdD, is a professional speaker, author, and facilitator who works with organizations and associations to create a positive sense of spirit in the workplace and community, and with managers who want their people to get along better.
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Author:Garrett, Shirley
Publication:Nursing Homes
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
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