Archive for the ‘Long Distance Caring’ Category

Voice

October 6, 2017

Dad moved into
skilled care Friday.
This may be temporary,
but probably it’s not.
He’s getting continually weaker.
His moments of real clarity
occur less frequently.
My sister Patty came from Colorado to see Dad,
not knowing she would be spending her time
overseeing this transition.
The doctor had ordered a diagnostic procedure
during Dad’s hospitalization,
but Dad’s blood was too thin at the time.
The procedure is painful and a little risky,
especially for an 88-year-old.
Dad was to be brought back in this week,
so the procedure could be done as an outpatient.
At one point Patty asked the physician,
“If he were your father,
would you proceed with this test?”
The doctor paused, then said, “Probably not.”
“Then please remove his name from the schedule,”
Patty said. “He’ll go without it.”
When aides were not putting up guard rails
on Dad’s bed, Patty said,
“It’s important to raise those rails each time,
otherwise he’ll fall again.”
These are only two of many examples
of how Patty has spoken up for Dad this week.
As his energy has waned and his voice has weakened,
she has stood tall beside him
and said what he was unable to say
or did not know how to say.

Being the voice for the one in our care
can be one of our most important tasks.
When doctors move and talk rapidly, we can say,
“Please repeat that more slowly
so we both can understand you.”
When complex medical procedures are proposed,
we can ask about risks and benefits, saying,
“After we talk this over in private,
I’ll tell you what my care receiver wants.”
When the one in our care is ill-equipped
to speak their concerns or state their case,
we can be their sound voice for them,
speaking their truth with authority.
If we don’t do that, then who will?
If we don’t serve as their advocates,
who else will step forward?

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Overestimate

August 1, 2007

Katherine told me
the story of her parents.
Her father, Harold,
developed Alzheimer’s.
Her mother, Rachel,
in ill health herself,
had to place him in a nursing home.
The cost of his care began to deplete their savings.
It appeared the sale of their house was next.
An attorney advised Katherine’s family
that in order for Rachel to avoid destitution,
she would need to divorce her husband
after 60 years of marriage.
So Katherine sat before a judge,
representing her demented father,
while her mother sat across the courtroom,
petitioning for a divorce she didn’t want.
It was an act, Katherine said,
that broke her mother’s heart.
Not long after that sad day in court,
Rachel received a letter in the mail.
In part it read,
“Whatever the State of Indiana
says about the legal status of your marriage,
that’s not what matters.
You are still married in the eyes of God,
and you always be—
that’s what matters.
You two remain married deep in your hearts,
and that will never change.”
The letter came from Michael,
who was legally no longer a family member—
he and Katherine had divorced years before.
Michael lived in Boston, 1,000 miles away.
His act of caring involved writing
a few heartfelt words
on a single piece of stationery.
That expression of care carried Rachel
through her final years,
as she placed that note in her Bible,
and then read it many, many times
when she needed its comforting message.

What is the point of this story of Katherine
and Harold and Rachel and Michael?
We, any of us, can be caregivers,
whatever our relationship, legal or otherwise,
to the one who needs care.
We can provide significant care,
even from far away.
We can care for another
with simple, deeply felt acts
that may take only moments to perform.
A point of this story is that
when we offer an authentic act of care,
we never know how much of a difference
it will make,
or how long its effects will last,
or how many times it will continue
to lift, to hold, to help heal,
to help someone live on.

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Different

July 11, 2007

The photo is 30 years old.
My two brothers and I
pose with our father
at the family lake cottage.
We’re all wearing almost identical
navy blue swim trunks.
(Our sister is not in the picture;
she must have forgotten to bring her trunks.)
We all still go to the place at the lake,
but Dad’s visits last only a few hours.
Walking is now hard for him;
his sense of balance is compromised;
his mind increasingly plays tricks on him.
When I was there with him last week,
he didn’t realize it was his own home.
Tony, Mike, and I, like Patty, are his caregivers now.
Tony, second from the right, lives nearby and stops in for short visits
at Dad’s assisted care facility.
Mike, on the far right, and I live farther away
and must plan our visits.
The three of us are alike, and yet so different.
One of us cajoles Dad when together,
one jokes with him a lot,
and one tends to be more serious
(except when he’s writing about sisters and swim trunks).
One of us creates entire gourmet meals for Dad,
one cooks with Marie Callender and her frozen delights,
and one carries on in style while his wife cooks up a storm.
One handles all Dad’s finances,
while the other two keep the vacant homeplace shipshape.
One or two are prone to hover over Dad;
one or two keep the boundaries more clear.
One shares his business owner mentality,
one is the effective salesman through and through,
and one cannot escape his professional caregiver roots.
We’re all three different,
we all three love Dad equally,
and we all relate to him uniquely as caregivers.
No one of us provides better care;
we each offer our characteristic way of caring.

What’s true of Herman’s boys is true of all caregivers everywhere.
However much we’re alike,
we each caregive in our own distinctive ways.
All of us.

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Distance

June 29, 2007

Patty is my sister,
six years younger.
She is a natural caregiver,
wonderfully so.
She was so during our mother’s long illness.
She is so now with our failing father.
Unlike the three brothers
who live a manageable drive away,
Patty’s drive is 1219 miles to the homeplace.
This is what I have heard her say:
“I regret missing out on the day-to-day details.”
“I feel guilty I am not there to help more.”
“I feel unworthy to make decisions about Dad’s care
because I am not the one who must implement those decisions.”

Undoubtedly, long distance caregiving has a unique character.
Everyday particulars go missing.
Eyes cannot easily verify.
Fingers cannot soothingly touch.
Arms and hands cannot lift and pour and wash and comb.
And yet…
And yet, vocal and written communication can still be clear and close
and quite engaging.
Many caregiving responsibilities can still be handled,
even from a distance,
and if not personally managed, then at least lovingly overseen.
The distance itself can foster creative ways of being together
that someone who is right next door might never consider.
And when there are opportunities to be together physically,
these times can have a special quality that’s remembered long after.
Then the miles between have nothing to do
with whether or not the bond remains strong,
whether or not the relationship grows and deepens,
whether or not the love keeps flowing back and forth.

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Our Best

June 4, 2007

Susanna’s chronically ill mother
lives alone in an assisted-living
apartment six states away.
The devoted daughter travels regularly,
at significant expense,
to spend extended periods with her mom.
She telephones daily.
She finds many occasions to send thoughtful gifts.
She stays in touch with those who oversee
her mother’s daily needs.
For all she does, however, she feels guilty she’s not doing more.
She admits, “I know I cannot expect my husband and teenage children
to move 1,000 miles so I can be closer to her,
and my mother will not move here.
Still, I feel like I am not there enough for her.”

Often that’s the family caregiver’s lament:
“Even though I am doing the best I can,
the best I know how,
it doesn’t seem good enough to me.”
There is no objective way to measure “best” in caregiving.
What’s right for a caregiver who lives next door is not the same
as what’s right for a long-distance caregiver.
The best caregiving one can provide
as a single parent with three small children
will be different from someone with fewer responsibilities.
One sibling may be best at relating emotionally as a caregiver,
while another may be best handling those everyday chores
that often go unnoticed yet make such a difference.
So we as caregivers will do well to assess honestly
what we can realistically expect of ourselves,
and then, as well as we can, do that.
No one can handle everything.
No one can do the various parts of caregiving equally well.
We all have our limits.
We all have our “bests.”

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