I moved away from home when I was 18 and only visited when necessary, you know holidays and stuff. I like my independence, my space and my sanity. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family but I can’t live within driving distance. I prefer at least a bit of air travel between us. They know this very well too and think I’m just a tad crazy.
In November 2015, my mom was diagnosed with the big bad ”C”word….cancer. As soon as she was diagnosed I packed up my life, put it in storage and flew my dog and myself home. In the end, family really is important to me. I told my mom that I would stay and help her through this until she was back on her feet which based on what the doctors had said would be through the end of January. I really thought I could hang for 3 months, help my mom and decide what to do next.
Well, the joke’s been on me.
We got my mom through her cancer surgery safe and sound. Thank God! I was at her house pretty much the whole time during her recovery, helping cook, clean, etc and of course taking her to her post surgery appointments. I distinctly remember recommending to her that she should take a full month off of work to recover and to make sure she was really ready to go back to work. She has her own mind though and she decided to only take 18 days off of work. I was not a happy camper to say the least, but she had made up her mind and there was nothing that I could do.
About a week after she went back to work, she was rear ended one morning and her car was totaled.
Guess who got the call? This girl.
Yup, my mom called frantic and emotional, told me she was coming to get me and needed me to take her to the ER. Now my mom is a highly emotional, cry at the drop of a hat person. She will readily admit this as it’s no secret. So, when I got the call, I was thoroughly confused because I’m wondering why the hell I need to take her to the ER. You see, I didn’t hear or she didn’t say that she was in a car accident because she was a basket case. The day of her car accident was a VERY long day. Police station, doctor appointments, lots of calls with insurance companies, her work and whatever else came up.
That was a very, very stressful day for my mom. She definitely was not planning on having to replace her car in addition to the new injuries from the accident that she had to deal with. She had just started to feel like she was getting back to normal and then BAM! another issue to deal with.
I laugh now, but man oh man, what a day that was.
Well, I wish I could say that was the end of that. I wish that I could say we got her a new car and got her back to work and everything went back to normal for both her and I, but I can’t…..
Three days after her car accident she fell down the stairs at her home!! Yes, she fell down the stairs. Not too big of a deal right? A few bumps and bruises, you would think. Nope. Along with the bumps and bruises and of course the sore muscles that all of that brings about, she BROKE her left foot and severely sprained her right ankle!
Yes my friends, she did! And yes, you can feel sorry for her…. and for me. You know who she called, right? That’s right….this girl again.
I headed over to my mom’s house immediately after she called and told me she fell down the stairs. My poor mom, she’s apologizing to me when she called, she’s apologizing when I walk in the door. She’s a hot f*cking mess and she knows it. Now, how can I even think about being upset? There is just no way. Accidents happen and she just happened to be on a run of them at the moment. After taking in the situation, we decided that she definitely need to go to the ER. Of course, she didn’t know she broke anything and her sprained ankle hurt WAY less than the broken one, so we hobbled (I carried/supported her) to the car and she’s still crying. Poor thing. I might have told her to listen to me next time I tell her to take more time off from work. I had to get that in there for good measure. I know, it sounds like I was mean about it, but I meant it with love….tough love.
As you know, we ended up with a broken foot and a severely sprained ankle. What does that mean? NO WALKING. Yes, the ER docs tell her to stay off of her feet. Hold up! I have to get her into the car at the ER, I have to get her into her house and up a flight of stairs. WTF?! I physically am in so much pain from just getting her to the car. The first 24 hours were really hard on my mom and I physically, mentally and emotionally. Crazy as it sounds, the hospital did not send us home with a wheelchair or walker to help her get around. We had crutches at home that we ended up trying to use but to no avail. When we got home, 2 of my brothers basket carried my mom into her house and parked her in her lounge chair in her living room. There was no chance of getting upstairs. With no way to get around, we pulled my mom’s office chair out and Sunday night and all day Monday I pushed her from her living room to her bathroom. I needed a massage following that 24 hours of fun.
I realized sitting in the ER that this time of taking care of my mom was far from over, little did I know how far though.
As I write this, from the date of my mom’s surgery to the date of this post, it has been 4 months of care taking and we have another 6 weeks to go. We think we are done after that. This has been a journey of 5 1/2 months when it’s all done. I never thought about having to be a caregiver for a parent. Weirdly, it never crossed my mind. My parents aren’t terribly old yet; they definitely have more miles on their tires and having to jump into a situation like this changed my outlook very quickly.
When this all started, I just thought I was going to come home and help my mom out. Super simple. Be here and be gone. I turned into a full time caregiver for my mom. As she is getting back on her feet and back to work, the demands and needs are becoming fewer but they are still there. Many people, until they are in a position where they are a caregiver taking care of a family member or just a parent, don’t realize how much goes into it….physically, mentally, emotionally and even financially.
Taking care of a parent is more than challenging. It’s not like having a kid whom you can tell what to do and when to do it. They have been making their own decision about their life for YEARS and they do not easily give up their independence. Being in a situation like this where your parents depend on you to take care of them is hard for both of you. You as the caregiver have to walk a fine line of child, caregiver and decision maker. Right now I feel like I am parenting my mom. #parentingyourparents
There are lots of decisions that need to be made on an almost daily basis and who is making them? Are you having to make the decision without giving your parent a choice or say in the matter or is it a mutual decision? We’ve had both scenarios and it’s been interesting trying to navigate them all without someone’s feelings getting hurt, mad or frustrated. There have been times where I’ve had to put my foot down on a decision and she wasn’t happy about it. Sometimes it’s about making the best decision or “right” decision for health or safety reasons. Who is the best person to make that decision and how do we determine what is right or best? These are murky, murky waters. There have been many times where we don’t agree and I have to give in or she has to give in and it’s not always easy. The best thing I can do is to operate in grace, kindness and love with my mom everyday, even when I don’t want to.
As a caregiver of a parent, there’s lot of fun little things that need to happen or that do happen that you’ve got to prepare for….
1. Administrative fun stuff: I have handled almost every phone call that has come in from doctors, insurance companies, her work, friends, church members, pastors, etc, etc, etc. The phone would ring and my poor mom would instantly start crying. She just couldn’t handle it. There was so much going on and so many things to deal with. We were dealing with 3 separate medical issues and no matter who you are, it’s a lot.
2. Transportation: I’m the chauffeur! I have driven her to all of her appointments, errands; basically anywhere that she needed or wanted to go. Literally, anywhere and everywhere. We had a seated scooter that she used to get around as of that first week after her fall.
3. Assistance: I called in reinforcements. I called my Aunts and both they and one of my cousins each spent a week during the month of February to help. I was overwhelmed physically and emotionally and I knew that I could not handle it all by myself. I also connected with my mom’s church and had almost 3 weeks of food provided and a group came and cleaned her house as well.
4. Stress: The stress level is super high for everyone when you are taking care of your parent. You not only have to worry about their life, schedule, health as well as your own. I am a small business owner and while I have lots of flexibility in my schedule, adding my mom’s schedule into my own changed the way my days worked. Things in my life started falling apart which added an additional layer of stress that I wasn’t prepared for. In the end, I ended up changing my business structure around and reducing my workload which in turn affected my personal finances. I had to make some really tough choices and I can’t really say that it’s been fun.
Taking care of parents is hard, plain and simple. They are as independent as we are, so finding balance for all parties is really key. This situation hasn’t been totally balanced, but it’s ok. I was personally ill-prepared for this situation since it was random accidents that happened in a short period of time. I will say that I am happy that I have been able to help my mom through all of this and I wouldn’t trade my time with her for all of the money in the world. I definitely would have wished for a different outcome for all of us.
If you ever end up in a situation where you have to take care of your parents, remember to be as loving as you can and remember that they are people too and this probably scares them more than it does you.
As we come to a close on my mom’s situation, I hope that from all of this she has learned to take better care of herself. I hope that she makes good decisions for herself that are healthy and safe, but in the end I have to recognize that it’s her life and she has to live it.
Just in case anyone is wondering, she is cancer free! She will be going in for regular checkups every 3–6 months for the next year.