Reflections of A Live-in Caregiver
Years ago, I became a live-in caregiver for my elderly mother. She had lung cancer and she was determined to fight this disease that was threatening her life.
Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.*
The purpose of this article is not to solicit pity or to show the world what a suffering servant is supposed to look like. Far from it. The real purpose is to show anyone who is interested that life goes on. Caregiving is not an end-game, but a pathway. It benefits not only the patient, but also the caregiver.
Let Me Explain
In our case, taking care of mom was a family effort. There was myself, my wife and son, who moved in with her to be live-in caregivers. We had the steadfast support of my sister and brother and many extended family members and friends to call on when we needed some help. And call we did.
There were times when the situation was tense and stressful. We still had school and our jobs to tend to. But we also had mother’s care to supervise. Sometimes, the schedule was hectic. There were times when we had to choose which task was most important. I missed a few days’ work. Some nights I got little sleep. Other nights I slept at the hospital in mother’s room.
There were plenty of long doctor’s appointments, a few 911 ambulance rides and the occasional waiting room marathon to test our endurance. And to reaffirm our level of commitment, fate threw in the unexpected surprise of a “dead car battery” or a “busted washing machine”. Just to keep us on our toes.
And then, when the arrogant, uninformed medical person arrived bossing me around, I would get all “Clint Eastwood” on them.
Sometimes, I just had to remind myself. Breathe in, breathe out, in.. out.. Ok, let’s do this.
Actually, I’m being a big whiner. When you see the loved-one you’re caring for, whose struggle for today is finding enough breath, or hanging on to their last thread of reality, those other problems become so very small. This person had cared for me as a child. When my life began, I did childish things. I thought only of myself, I complained a lot and I left a mess everywhere I went. Now, the roles were reversed.
As a child, my life was a lesson in discovery. Guided by the loving hand of my mother, I learned to walk. I grew in self-awareness and learned to relate to others.
But the lessons of today are much harder to accept. Though I still grumble a lot, I’ve found that the difficult path is often the best answer. And despite my best effort, occasionally, a workable solution refuses to be revealed.
And then, without fanfare, the loving hand that use to guide me, slowly faded away.
Get to the Point
During that season of my life, I felt burdened and tense. I was concerned for the life of my mother and for the health and happiness of my family. It was not fun. At the time, all I could hope for was a good day.
But as I sit here today and look back, I do so with a grateful heart. Just like most people, I’ve grown through this experience in my life. The time I spent as a caregiver, set a standard I now use to engage each day. The events of present are viewed through the lens of the past. My priorities have been adjusted accordingly.
Caregiving is important. It was important to my mother as she struggled with cancer. As for me, it was important to do what I could to provide her some relief where possible. It was important to share a personal moment together, realizing those opportunities were disappearing with each tick of the clock.
Being a caregiver made me a better person. I have no regrets.
Everyone is Different
I know there are many caregivers out there who have had the same experience, and the numbers are growing. But not everyone’s circumstance is alike, and some have had a very different experience. There are folks forced into a situation they didn’t volunteer for. Some are faced with an illness that’s too difficult to manage,.. or perhaps, are ill themselves. Many, if not most, struggle with finances while being a live-in caregiver.
Still, I believe there are heroes among us. Brave, compassionate souls willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. They care for their loved one, not for reward or applause. They do it simply out of love. And in doing so, they grow as they practice the attributes of patience, kindness and fortitude. They learn to better manage time and stress. Best of all,.. if they’re lucky,… perhaps their priorities are rearranged.
Viewing life through a new lens.
*American Cancer Society – Key Statistics for Lung Cancer