Chat About Care-giving: The Grocery Store

I keep forgetting that the things which are simplest for me can be the most difficult for my beloved seniors. Take grocery shopping, for instance.

I’ve been helping my mom with her grocery shopping for years.  She’ll run to Kroger’s on her own for a few items occasionally, but we go to Sam’s and Wal-Mart every month to keep her stocked up on everything else.  She has a list and her coupons.  I bring the energy.  To me it seems like no big deal, but she never fails to shower me with appreciation, as if I’d just battled with the Titans to save her life, rather than took her to Wal-Mart.  (Of course, I hate Wal-Mart, but that’s another story.)

What’s hard for me to realize is that just getting out of the house is an ordeal for her.  First, there’s the “getting ready to go” thing.  A brush through her hair and a dab of lipstick is just not enough.  Her thinning hair must be carefully placed and glued into position.  She’s got a lupis-related rash on her face which needs to be hidden.  Selecting an outfit with pockets for her billfold and phone, so she won’t have to juggle her purse and her cane, is another challenge.  When she does find an outfit, arthritis turns buttons, zippers and snaps into a minefield.  Shoes that don’t hurt her feet don’t exist.  Then she’s got to see that Dad is settled and won’t need her before she returns.

Checking, double checking and triple checking, she makes sure she has her keys, her cane, her billfold, her phone, her lists and her coupons.  The stairs into the garage are so steep she doesn’t want to climb them anymore than absolutely necessary.  She’s always been a timid driver, but now with an awareness of diminishing capabilities, the thought of driving is even scarier.  But tough old bird that she is, she won’t be defeated by a grocery list, so she says a prayer and turns the key.

Arriving at her grocery store brings a new challenge.  There’s only two kinds of drivers who shop there.  One is the young, rude kids gunning their engines and whipping their cars around.  Other senior citizens complete the balance and they’ve usually filled all the handicapped spots before Mom gets there.  If she gets a spot and hobbles with her cane to the front of the store, a major miracle has occurred.

Sliding her cane into the cart, she hopes she’s chosen a cart which will operate properly.  Her first stop will be the produce section where the price of tomatoes will cause a rise in her blood pressure, but at least she recognizes the tomatoes.  One of my primary responsibilities on our joint grocery excursions is to filter through all the non-essential packaging information and figure out what she’s getting and how much it costs.  The worst part is that they’ve so “improved” most of the items that she buys that they’re not really what she wants, but what she has to settle for.  Nothing infuriates her more than to stand in front of shelves stacked high and wide with what’s supposed to be cranberry juice and discover that the only thing you can’t get is 100% cranberry juice with no sugar added in a cranberry flavor.

But at least Mom has a desire to go to the grocery store and is interested in having three meals a day.  Aunt Edie doesn’t have those desires any longer.  Having the doctor prescribe hospice was a shock, but my optimistic nature found  an upside to it – I’d have an ally in my battle to keep Aunt Edie’s life as normal as possible for as long as possible.  Last week I sat down with Cathy, the hospice nurse, to have my questions answered.  “What do I do about her appetite.  I can’t get her to eat much of anything.”  Cathy was not surprised by my question. In fact, loss of appetite is one of the hallmarks of Aunt Edie’s condition.  Instead of encouraging me to force Aunt Edie to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables three times a day, Cathy said that whatever we prepared for Aunt Edie should be served in extremely small portions.  As to what it should be portions of – the answer was whatever we could get her interested in.

Before I left Temple, I took Aunt Edie to her grocery store to stock up.  I told her she had the nurse’s permission to get anything she wanted.  Aunt Edie wandered through the store uninterested in pretty much everything.  She got a little ham and cheese for sandwiches, a tomato and a few cans of soup.  Nothing else sounded good to her.  The less she eats the more I try to eat for her.  The next time Mom and I go to Wal-Mart, I’m going to have a new appreciation for Mom’s interest in three meals a day.  What simple task does your senior find difficult to complete?

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