Thursday, July 26, 2012

How Do You Take Care of a Care Giver?

Every day after lunch, my Pappaw would load two plates of food in the car and take it to the nursing home where his mother and sister were living. I don’t know how many years he took care of them, but it had to be close to 10. Keep in mind I was a child. If you knew Pappaw, you knew he was a man of few words. I never heard him complain. I never heard him say a negative word about serving his mother or sister that way. Every day…a home-cooked meal.

I saw my daddy take care of my mom the year she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and the year to follow -- taking her to doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions, making notes to discuss with the doctor, watching her sleep, doing what needed to be done.

Now I see my mom taking care of my Mammaw -- emergency room runs, visits to doctors, addressing issues with her health care and living arrangements, washing her laundry, following-up on problems and working through challenges.

Are you a caregiver? The caregiver to which I am referring is someone who takes care of someone who is ill, aging…in general, someone who takes care of another person without remuneration or compensation. Neither of these are jobs people are jumping up and down waving their arms screaming, “Ooohhh, pick me! Pick me! I want that job.” But my role models in these positions have served their loved ones humbly and honorably with their whole heart and body to the point of exhaustion without complaint. They fight for their loved one because she can’t do it for herself. They feed, clothe, spend time with them, listen to them, and take care of the day-to-day life issues that others never know. They are the security blanket for the one they serve. They are the ones that are called when there is a crisis or an issue regardless of the time of day or night.

So, who takes care of the caregiver because everyone runs out of steam at some time? Who steps in and supports the caregiver when they feel at the end of their rope? What does it look like to take care of the caregiver? How do you take care of the caregiver?

It’s not just one person’s responsibility to serve. It wasn’t just my daddy’s responsibility to serve my mom, but rather, the family’s responsibility and desire to serve and honor her. Sometimes he just needed a ride-about with Daisy (the dog). Sometimes it was a listening ear. I remember Lori and I watching and listening to him as much as we did mom just to make sure he was taking care of himself, and if there was something we could do, we stepped up. What we found is that when everyone steps up and steps in to support that main caregiver, he was encouraged and refueled. It’s a long road to maintain a steady steam if you don’t have people stepping in and stepping up. Now, we watch mom as she is the primary caregiver for Mammaw. We watch to make sure she is taking care of herself. We step in and we step up to do what we can to help with Mammaw, but we are limited. So the next best thing is to take care of the caregiver. Have you ever noticed that when you are in the middle of something you don’t really realize that you are neglecting your own welfare? And considering her bout with stage 3 cancer, she doesn’t have the same endurance that she had before.

One thing I’ve noticed is that it seems to be difficult for caregivers to admit when they need help or when they need support.

So, I’m looking for ideas for taking care of caregivers. We support them when they go camping out of town, and we do what we can for Mammaw. I know we are not the only ones who have had the opportunity to serve those we love through care-giving, and I would like to know what you have done to take care of the care-givers in your family. I don’t care how out-of-the-box it is. I’d love to hear it. Lori and I are definitely out-of-the-box kind of people…anyone who can bedazzle a paper gown for their mom to wear to her next oncology appointment definitely likes creativity.

The bottom line is the caregiver has to take care of himself or herself or they are no good to anyone else, but if there is just one primary person doing the care giving, it just seems like there is something that others can do, and I’d like some fresh ideas. Feel free to call me or e-mail me or respond to this blog. Thanks!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mammaw Groves -- The Disappearing Woman

When I was growing up there were two women who made me toe the line, two women who had an irreplaceable impact in and on my life. Obviously, one of those women was my mom. The other was her mom, Mammaw…for some of you, Mammaw Groves. I don’t ever remember a time in my life that she wasn’t in it. She kept children in her home for years. I think she was on her second generation of kids when she retired. I was always amazed at how she kept everything so organized and how smoothly things ran and how well the children minded. I remember telling the other kids, “You may call her ‘Mammaw,’ but she’s my REAL Mammaw.” When I would get sick during school, Pappaw would pick me up and take me to their house on Meriwether where I would stay in the small bedroom at the end of the hallway. I loved that house. I remember where the squeaky board was in the hallway near the space heater. I remember the big playroom. I remember Mammaw and Pappaw’s bedroom with the antique phone and the picture of the ship he was on in World War II and the picture of Carrie that hung on the wall. I remember the dining room where all the adults ate while the kids ate around a table with a barrel base. I had so many happy times in that house.

When Lori and I would spend the night over there that was when she was our Mammaw…not that she behaved any differently. Every Friday afternoon was Burger King for supper, and then we would get up and eat all the sugary cereal we wanted…my mom would not have anything like that in our house. She kept her cereal in those Tupperware cereal containers and usually had two shelves full. There was a stool under the green rotary phone that hung on the wall and A/C unit. She washed everything by hand and had a Venus flytrap in her windowsill from time-to-time.

Then there were Sundays. Since momma played the organ and daddy sang in the choir, Lori and I would sit with Mammaw and Pappaw during church. We would each get a peppermint and a quarter: the peppermint to keep our mouths quiet, and the quarter for the offering. While Pappaw fell asleep as soon as the preacher got up to preach, Mammaw sat there with her Bible being very attentive and making sure Lori and I were minding our Ps and Qs. I remember Mammaw had a Bible that my Uncle Richard brought back from the Holy Land. It had opals or some sort of jewels attached to the front. I remember seeing Mammaw read her Bible that was on her nightstand…amazing what we remember. Then there was Sunday lunch. Mammaw, Pappaw, Mom, Dad, Lori and I would go to their house to eat lunch after church. There was a time when Mammaw and Pappaw were going out of town and I asked, “Well, what are we going to do for lunch?” Like we were going to starve or something. Invariably, I would ask what we were going to have for lunch, and Pappaw would grin and say, “meatloaf.” He knew I wasn’t a fan. My favorite food she fixed was, of course, deviled eggs, but her chicken and dumplings were heavenly, as well as her Mississippi Mud Cake.

If you would have asked me to describe my Mammaw, I would have said, “She was a spirited, determined, in-control kind of person who could swat you with a flyswatter before you could bat an eye. She was head-strong and anal about pretty much everything. We used to pick at her because all of her celery would be chopped exactly the same size, along with any other fruit or vegetable she would dice. She was stubborn. When she had her knee replaced, she wasn’t wanting to do her exercises at home and wasn’t making progress. I was sent out to deal with the situation…from one stubborn person to another. It still makes me grin…BTW, she did her exercises.

When Pappaw died, she was incredibly strong. Mammaw had never lived alone or on her own before. She had never put gas in her car before…that was an interesting lesson that was repeated. When we moved her to Live Oak, she was a champ. She had the greatest outlook. Even when she was scared, she was never mean, and up until the past few months, she has thrived at Live Oak, enjoying everything life had to offer. My kids each have a painting she did in Creative Corner. But Mammaw has fallen a couple of times and most likely has had some TIAs (small strokes). Her memory isn’t what it once was because of the Alzheimer’s, so she may ask the same question several times. Her hearing isn’t what it once was…We could whisper from the front playroom, and she could hear us in the den! She not as feisty as she once was, and her ability to maintain conversations is lacking. The woman I knew from my childhood is slowly disappearing. She has gotten old.

I am so thankful to live in the same city as my grandparents. I can’t imagine my life without them. Now I have the privilege of serving her and loving her as she changes into different shades of someone I once knew. I’m thankful my children have gotten to know her. I asked Pearce, “How would you describe Mammaw?” His response, “nice, funny, joyful.” That’s how I want him to remember her.

When I talk to her I tell her stories about the kids, and that always seems to bring a smile, or I ask her questions about stories she has told me in the past. For example, her daddy told her about living in Missouri and hiding slaves escaping the South, stories about her growing up years, things she told me about Pappaw, and I tell her things I remember about her and things we all did together. She adds what she can, when she can. This is our new norm.

If you go visit Mammaw, please don’t ask her, “Do you remember me?” That question always puts someone on the spot, and then to ask that of someone with the dementia or any other memory issues…that makes it really difficult. Instead say, “Mrs. Groves, I’m _____________. You kept me when I was a little girl,” or “Mammaw, I’m ___________, and I stayed with you as a child.” Tell her your memories. If she ever loved you, she deserves this.