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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Week With Mom

My lovely daughter and I spent the last five days as caretakers for my mom who is living with MS. My dad is her primary caretaker and has been for the last ten years. When my mom was diagnosed with MS in 1997, the doc told her she'd have at least ten years of being able to walk. In reality, she had about five years. She started using a wheelchair in 2002. At that time, she could still lift herself up, stand for a minute or two, and generally do things for herself with just a bit of assistance. By 2006, she couldn't stand for more than a couple of seconds, and because of inactivity, her strength began to lessen, making her unable to lift herself. At that time, my dad took over lifting her and doing so many things for her that she used to be able to do herself. He lifts her from the couch to her wheelchair, from her wheelchair to the commode, and then in reverse, many times a day. He's never complained. He's never expressed a desire to leave. He's never brought up the suggestion of putting my mom, his wife of 54 years, in a nursing home. He just very lovingly takes care of her.

But he needs a break every now and then, way more often than what he gets. Being a caretaker is tough, and after a while, all of the pressure of being the person who has to do everything starts to chip away at the caretaker's emotional well-being. The last three summers, I've gone over to stay with Mom while Dad gets away. He's gone fishing in Canada, taken a trip to Yellowstone, and this time went to Michigan to fish for a couple of days followed by a trip to Ohio to visit family and friends. The first summer I stayed alone and we managed okay. While I'm in pretty good shape, lifting an individual who has no leg strength and cannot hold herself up in any way can be difficult. I was glad to be able to help, though, and seeing my dad return re-energized made it all worth it.

Last summer, when I was asked to stay a week with Mom, I hesitated. I knew my mom's health had declined further and she needed even more help. I also knew she'd gained some weight, which would make lifting her a bit more difficult. My dad needed a break, though. After a lot of thought, I asked my lovely daughter if she would assist me, which meant giving up a week of her summer to do all the duties a CNA does, including bathing her grandma. Without blinking an eye, she said absolutely. While my mom was somewhat embarrassed to have her granddaughter see her naked, see her at her most vulnerable, she quickly found out her granddaughter wasn't the least bit put off. With my daughter's help, the lifting, the changing of clothes, and the overall care of my mom was so much easier. My daughter showed nothing but love, compassion, and care the entire time. I was truly moved by what I experienced that week, watching my daughter partake in the care of her grandmother.

Last week, we returned and spent five days with my mom while my dad took a much-needed break. The day after we arrived, a couple of my daughter's friends showed up, along with my two boys. Their chattering and laughter filled the house, and from where I was sitting in the living room, I could see my mom enjoying the young people and their antics. My daughter's friends talked to my mom, filling her in on their lives and the things they were doing over the summer. They also spurred us to dig out the cards and play euchre. We spent many hours at the kitchen table playing bid euchre, imparting to my son and daughter all the secrets to the game. My son is now hooked. 

My dad returned home yesterday, somewhat refreshed, but I thought I could also see some remnants of fatigue remaining from so many days and nights of caring for Mom. I want to help more, but I don't know how. For now, I just have to hope that Dad enjoyed his time away, that Mom enjoyed her time with her grandchildren, and that we'll be able to return next summer for another week.

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