Saturday, September 12, 2009

Caregiving 101

"You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way."
Marvin Minsky

It's been an interesting day.

Last night Sweetie declared that "we" were going to a Caregiver's Conference put on by our local Community Hospice. Oh goodie, I thought. It's Saturday, I get a hall pass for most of the day and I get to sit in a room and listen to a bunch of lectures on caregiving. It was like sitting in the choir loft and knowing there was going to be a really long sermon! What can they possibly say about taking care of a grumpy old man that I don't already know?

My alternatives, however, were not much better - heading for Walmart or staying home and having a meaningful relationship with the vacuum cleaner. I didn't put up much of a fight. A day away from the house with my remarkable Sweetie sounded pretty good even if it was starting at 9am. Not an ungodly hour, but a certain someone likes to get to places early to scope them out, so it meant a 7 am wake up call. Oh God!

All in all it was an interesting and informative day. There was far too much sitting in one place. By the end of the morning lectures I had was nursing a headache from cocking my head to a weird angle so I could see the power point presentations. It was all worth it though, because the highlight of the day's event was the 45 minute one-woman show by none other than Carol O'Dell, author of Mothering Mother and facilitator of my writing group.

All the other speakers stood behind a microphone and spoke with little or no animation. Carol pushed the mike out of her way and woke that crowd up in her first 30 seconds. I know her to be a fantastic writer and story-teller, but I've never seen one of her "shows." It was everything, and more, that I imagined it would be - funny, poignant, straight-forward, irreverent, informative, fast-moving, and truthful. Carol took care of her mother who had both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease so she knew what she was talking about. She didn't pull any punches. What was funny today may have made her cry when it happened a few years ago. Still she refers to caregiving as dumpster diving - looking for hidden treasures among all the trash.

Because I was going to "learn how to take care of an old man" Dad was pretty okay with my being gone for the day. Because I had "permission" to go I didn't feel a lot of guilt about leaving him. Even though my sister is every bit as capable as caring for Dad as I am, I often carry a 20 pound bag of guilt over my shoulder when I'm not here. Some of it is self-inflicted, some encouraged by the man who reminds me on a regular basis that he's paying me to take care of him. It's a little on the lines of the "I brought you into this world, and don't ever forget it...." speech most of us have heard a hundred times.

As I sat through the days lectures I realized how lucky I am to have a Sweetie who understood the need for me to attend this conference. And how really lucky I am that he sticks by me and supports me in this caregiving journey. I didn't actually realize until today that I've been saying "I'm" a caregiver for all these years when in fact "we" are caregivers. It's not a journey that I'm taking with my Dad and Sweetie is just along for the ride. It's a journey we are taking together.

I just got a visual of the Wizard of Oz characters dancing down the yellow brick road arm in arm. Each of us has our own journey yet we are on the same road. On any given day our relationships - Sweetie and I, Dad and I, Dad and Sweetie, plus my sister, the dog and the cats - are co-mingled. We are seldom alone.

I sat with Dad tonight after he crawled under the covers. I poised myself on the commode next to his bed, held his hand and shared a rare and peaceful moment with him. He shared some feelings with me which is highly unusual for an engineer of left-brain thinking. I was quiet, which is also highly unusual. I embraced the moment for what it was ... a diamond in the dumpster.

A good ending to a good day,
Merry ME

1 comment:

Molly said...

i think your comment at the top is a gem. and i liked this story. often it's the "i don't feel like it" experiences that turn out to be just what the doctor ordered for me.