My caregiver experience was short. My 86-year-old mother was not recovering from surgery and began to fail. Despite competing pulls, an ailing parent, a job, and a teen preparing for senior prom, I rushed to my mother’s side and helped her stabilize. Ultimately, I felt quite fortunate to have had that special, loving time with her as my mom died just seven months later.
A friend became a caregiver to her mom after she was diagnosed with dementia. Her mother lives in an assisted living facility but she takes care of all her needs. Another friend just moved her mom in with her; her mother could no longer live in her retirement home without round-the-clock care.
My friends and I talk about the role reversal, when a parent is too sick or frail to take care of themselves. While all of us feel good in giving parents the nurturing care they’ve given us, all of us have grieved the loss. We miss the parent who gave us sage wisdom and support, a precursor to what it will be like once they’re physically gone.
What have I learned from my friends? Being a caregiver to our parents takes a toll on many levels; it can be emotionally and physically exhausting. And then there’s the underlying fear that our parent will soon die, and how do we make the very most of our remaining time together?
How can we help and support our friends and loved ones facing the challenging times? Here’s what my friends had to say:
1. Having others acknowledge that caring for a parent isn't easy is very validating. Comments like "Your Mom is lucky to have such caring children" or “You’re a good daughter and your mom is lucky to have you” are mood lifters.
2. Caregiving can be isolating. It’s helpful when friends and family members visit their parent. One was especially appreciative with offers to help take her mom out to lunch, which can be physically demanding because of mobility issues.
3. Extending help makes caregiving less stressful. It would be reassuring to hear; "Here's my cell phone number--feel free to call if you get stuck." One friend has no one to give her a break. She wishes a friend who knows her mom would spell her for a few hours so she could get some needed time away with a free mind.
4. Sharing resources makes a difference. One friend got information about a local caregivers support group, which was incredibly supportive and helpful with practical information and suggestions. Another friend found their current home health aide through a friend's recommendation.
5. Sending little gifts to the older person (it can be as simple as a card or book) shows they’re not forgotten.
6. And when asked what the most comforting thing someone did was, a friend replied; “Sometimes what helps most is simply having someone willing to listen when I need to vent a little."
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.