Caring for My Mother Part 2: Three Generations of Women Under One Roof
I’m in my early 80’s, the same age my mother was when she came to live with us. She could no longer live alone, and the only other option was assisted living. But because we had the space and my own grandmother had lived with my family growing up, it felt like the natural option for us to bring her home with us.
Having her under our roof brought many benefits to us all. During those early years she spent with us, my mother was somewhat active and was in relatively good health. We talked, laughed often, and reminisced about the past all the time, and this gave my fifteen-year-old daughter insight about how I grew up. It was a great time for the three of us.
Things went along for several years until we began to notice my mother’s health was declining.
Using the bathroom was becoming more difficult, and although I put safety bars in her bathtub, helping her bathe was becoming problematic. Even a bathtub seat wouldn’t work, since her balance was off.
Along with that, she was losing control of her bladder and bowel functions. And despite our efforts to make light of the situation, losing control over her body was terribly embarrassing for her. The need to depend on someone else to use the bathroom or clean herself was upsetting to her especially since she had always been so fastidious. She was always meticulous about her personal cleanliness, as well as modest, so not being able to wash or clean or bathe herself was a huge blow to her independence and her confidence.
As her primary caregiver, I learned to recognize that a smile and an, “It’s okay, mom, don’t worry about it, accidents happen to all of us at one time or another,” goes farther than chastising someone and being annoyed with them. The situation was harder on her as it was, so I felt my mother deserved understanding and caring, not criticism. I never wanted her to consider herself a burden. And I undertook caring for her at home because I wanted to show her the love while she could see it.
As for my daughter, the experience of caring for her grandmother helped my own daughter understand what benefits I gained when I was was fifteen by doing the same with my grandmother. And she grew to have the same loving bond with my mother. They had a wonderful relationship and my daughter learned a lot about compassion and patience having to help me with my mother’s personal care.
Like I mentioned, my mother was an easy patient, with a cheerful personality and loads of gratitude for everything that was done for her. It was just her nature and that’s one of the things that made caring for her less of an effort.
As time went on and she grew even more fragile, we realized that my mother needed a higher level of care to keep her clean, properly fed, and cared for. So, we called my sister and brothers together to discuss our options. And since keeping her with us at home was important to me and the rest of the family, we agreed she would remain with us. And my daughter was in complete agreement.
But my siblings were concerned that I would be doing everything for my mother and that it might be too much for me to handle. So everyone, including my mother’s doctor, encouraged me to call my local Visiting Nurse’s Association to find out what type of in-home healthcare was available and someone was sent to evaluate her. It was then determined that she qualified for in-home care.
They suggested a schedule where they would send a nurse’s aide twice a week to help us with mom’s care. The aide would come and walk her into the bathroom to bathe her, change her clothes, check on her meds, and offer personal care whenever she needed it. She was grateful for everything that was done for her and so were we.
As more time went on, hygiene issues became an even bigger problem. Our visiting nurse came by more frequently and she realized that mom’s health was declining. Her incontinence was worsening, and she was having multiple accidents daily. So, our health aide increased her number of visits to four days a week, and within a short period of time we installed a commode by her bedside and a grab bar next to her bed.
We bought a walker for her which she used to go to and from the kitchen so we could all eat together, but even that was limiting since her balance was beginning to be affected. At first, she was steadier for a while. After a bit, though, it was becoming obvious that getting out of bed and moving around was too much for her. So she began to spend more time in bed, napping, rather than getting up and around the house. I wound up buying a hospital-style over-the-bed table so mom could eat her meals in bed. It made more sense since moving from room to room was difficult for her.
In all the years she lived with us, we had only one negative experience with a nursing aide. One day, a new aide came to the house. So, to prepare for my mother to meet her, my daughter and I changed her bedding and freshened her up by changing her clothes as well. The aide came later that morning and, after a few hours, had to change my mother again. Not long after the aide changed her, mom had an accident and needed to be changed again. The aide was visibly annoyed with my mother and snapped at her, “I just changed you.” And even though my mother was apologetic, I saw the aide’s exasperation. She left shortly after and I immediately called the Visiting Nurse’s Association and told them what happened and told them never to send her back to us again. I was angry because my mother no longer had control of her body and she was being shamed for it. It was a hurtful thing to watch.
Make no mistake, caregiving is mentally and physically exhausting and difficult, time-consuming, and repetitious. And it’s tough to remain cheerful when you’re changing someone’s bedding and clothing several times a day. But I felt it was worth it.
I’m convinced that as a caregiver, attitude is everything because caring for an aging parent is very much a labor of love.
I was very fortunate that my daughter was as helpful and compassionate as she was. Both she and I have never regretted caring for mom and we never considered her a burden. And to our knowledge, neither did she.
In the final installment of this series, I’ll describe my mother’s last days, what led up to them, and how we handled her and her end-of-life care.
About the author ~
Sandy Eigner is eighty going on fifty. She’s a mother, a grandmother, and a writer living out her retirement between Florida and Boston. She writes about her life experience raising a family and caring her for own mother as a single, working mom. She also writes about life as a snowbird, as a grandmother, and as an active senior who found love again later in life.