There’s no one thing about caring for my elderly family members that’s difficult, it’s all the things that make it tough. All the things at the same time, that is. Can you identify with that?
As I write this, I’m planning for a weekend trip to Temple to visit my Aunt Edie, my ninety-one year old maiden aunt who’s on hospice. Though she’s still living independently, the cancer is carrying her downhill rapidly. I call her everyday and the last few times we’ve spoken, I realized she’s slurring her words more with each call. Soon the nieces will be dividing up the responsibility of staying with her twenty-four hours a day. This is no burden. She’s been a true joy to me all of my life, but I do wonder how I’ll juggle the rest of my responsibilities.
Mom will be going with me on this trip, because it may be their last Mother’s Day together. The two are not just sisters, but also one another’s best friend, yet Mom’s own condition will keep her out of the rotation, when the nieces divide up the coming weeks. She walks with a cane. Her hands are rendered helpless by arthritis. She rarely drives and when she does, it’s only in her immediate neighborhood. Still she manages to take care of herself and dad, as long as she has some help from me – and how will I offer that help, when I’m at Aunt Edie’s bedside.
On Monday, Mom will have dental surgery. Her internist insisted she have a stress test before the surgery to insure she was healthy enough. She was, but just barely, because as soon as she’s healed enough from the surgery, we must go to her heart specialist and decide what to do about the reduction her heart’s functionality. Most likely, we will need to replace her worn out stents, but who will take care of Dad while she’s in the hospital and at home recuperating?
Dad has no immediate threats. We need to get him to the pain clinic for another shot, but otherwise he’s in no danger. But he’s ninety and he does little for himself. He can take himself to the bathroom and shave, but Mom bathes him, helps dress him and manages everything else about his life, while he sits quietly in his chair. We can leave him alone for an hour or so, but while Mom and I are in Temple, we have to make arrangements for his care.
Hindsight is so clear. I began suggesting my parents move to assisted living a few years ago. They were not incapacitated, but I didn’t want them to have to make the move in a rush. I wanted them to have choices and participate in the decision-making. Very recently, Mom agreed to start the process of looking for a retirement center, but only after she got the dental surgery out-of-the-way and that was before we found out about the heart issues. If they were already there, it would solve so many other issues, but would it have been right to push them into doing something they were not yet willing to face?
As I sit here writing this, I do not know how I am going to juggle it all. How will I be there for Aunt Edie, as well as Mom and Dad? How will I keep house for my husband and be a wife to him? How will I keep writing, maintain my blog and continue to send out queries to literary agents? What if someone does want to represent me and we start working toward publication? Will I be able to meet the deadlines that will lead to my dream? How will I find time to be a friend to my friends? How will I nourish my spiritual life which glues everything else together?
Even as I wonder how I will structure my life in the coming days, I count my blessings. My husband provides well for me, so that I do not have to go to a 9-5 job five days a week, deal with a boss breathing down my neck and wonder how I’ll pay the rent. There are no children or grandchildren for me to worry about. My care-giving responsibilities are challenging, but they could be even more so, if my husband’s parents were also in need. My own health is robust, as is my husband’s. I have so much to be thankful for – and yet… And yet.
How do you do it? Those of you who do work 9-5, have kids of your own and fight your own health battles? When faced with many issues, any one of which could take up all of your resources, how do you juggle them all?