'The Garden We Made.' Mom As Caregiver
“He loved all the digging,” mom said as she relaxed into the sofa, adrift with memories. “Corn, eggplants, tomatoes, squash. You’d be proud of the garden we made.”
I shuffled through photos of dad in various stages of active living, some eliciting vivid memories of the rugged, intellectual outdoorsman I once knew. Instead of Disney World, I had wilderness camping trips; in place of storybooks, were works by Aristotle and Thoreau. He had a mind rich in color and a personality as big as they come.
“But then he slowed down,” mom said. “He mostly stayed inside.” By the early 2000s, pain and illness took over his body. An old work injury sustained nearly two decades ago led to spinal stenosis, a painful narrowing of the spine. Years of smoking led to COPD, a progressive lung disease that made him gasp for air as he walked room to room. Mom, then a full-time paralegal and mother of two teenagers, became “caregiver” to her husband -- a role she both embraced and feared. She bathed him, got him dressed, trimmed his beard, and often picked up his prescriptions in the evening. She did all of this while still remaining an active mom in her children’s lives.
“Dad saw himself as more of a burden than a husband,” mom said. “But I didn’t want to hire anyone. I thought if I don’t do this myself, I’m not a caring wife.” She was often exhausted, but with two college kids, she couldn’t afford to stay home or even work part-time. While at work, she often found herself overcome by feelings of guilt for leaving him alone all day. Socially, she became withdrawn, often foregoing the activities she once loved to do: taking long walks, seeing plays, and visiting her out-of-state family on the weekends. Even going out to a restaurant wasn’t without complications. “We avoided those small places where we couldn’t ‘park’ the wheelchair inside.”
I imagine how both of my parents would have benefited if they sought help for my dad’s in-home care. I picture my father playing chess with a like-minded health care aide, as he waxes poetic about his favorite philosophers. I imagine my mom at ease, knowing the love of her life is physically safe and thriving emotionally and mentally while she’s at work.
Through personal experience, I’ve learned how companionship can be a powerful antidote to loneliness. Even when my dad was physically immobile, his intellect and interests remained intact. His body may have slowed down, but his mind never stopped exploring. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in understanding the true value of addressing the 360-degree health of our seniors. Technology, especially mobile technology, is a powerful medium for fostering connectedness between loved one, caregiver, and care coordinator. “Transparency” and “trust” should no longer be rare qualities we’d hope to find in in-home healthcare; they are the norm.
The future of senior healthcare is finally here and it is home.
[Content written for HomeTeam]