Nuts are often a feature of the holiday season, so here's a brief look at some of what made me go a bit nutty this past year.
As I mentioned in the previous post on stress, 2015 was a tough year. The most difficult part was being thrust into the role of caregiver for my husband’s mom for the first half of the year. She had a heart attack on New Year’s Eve and was transferred to a hospital in our area 80 miles away from her home and 20 miles from us.
Although she had significant health problems already, she’d clung tightly to living on her own. Last year, we tried to get her to move closer to us, but she resisted giving up her familiar home and we had to back off the plan. Thankfully, she had neighbors that were willing and able to help her with grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments. Without them, there would have been no choice but to move her since she had to give up driving early last year.
However, once she had the heart attack, it was clear that she could no longer live alone. It would have been unreasonable to ask the neighbors to take on the level of care and assistance she would need from that point forward, especially since her neighbors were also aging and facing their own health challenges. Despite living on an income below the Federal poverty level, she was unable to get state long-term medical assistance to go into a group home, leaving us with no choice but to have her move in with us.
While she was in the hospital and then rehab, my husband and I scrambled to arrange everything. This involved dealing with her rental house 100 miles away and her possessions that would not fit in our house, filing change of address, and helping her pay bills and close utility accounts. There was also the matter of creating space for her in our moderately small house. She needed room to sleep as well as her own area where she could watch TV, read, and do her breathing treatments, as well as enough room to use a walker.
We did a lot of re-arranging, and then rented a storage unit to clear out 25% of our home in order to give her the master bedroom and bathroom. I rushed around to thrift stores to find furniture that would fit while my husband built her a platform bed frame since we couldn’t find something that would work for an affordable price. The bathroom was also modified for handicap-accessibility.
We had planned to start 2015 out in a healthy way, eating better and using our exercise equipment more regularly. Instead, the exercise equipment had to be put in storage, and we responded to the highly stressful situation by stuffing ourselves with comfort food and losing a lot of sleep. After she moved in, we continued to lose ground in eating fresh, wholesome foods due to accommodating her desire for familiar foods, despite the fact that she'd always loved my cooking when we visited in the past.
There were other losses as well. By choosing to do the right thing and take her in, we lost privacy in our home and intimacy in our marriage. Despite sharing my thoughts openly online, the irony is I am a very private person in my home. I abhor having strangers come into my house, but having a home-bound terminally-ill person living here meant I had hordes of strangers in the health care business traipsing in and out on a regular basis, usually without set appointment times.
I was frequently stuck at home waiting for these people because there was no way my mother-in-law could answer the door. She often didn’t hear when someone arrived, nor could she just jump up and run to the door with her bum hip and long stretch of oxygen tubing. And she certainly couldn’t handle a large dog excited that someone was coming to visit. In the dog’s past experience, a vehicle in the driveway meant UPS was delivering his food. The result was that it was often difficult to get out to do the shopping and errands, much less just to take a break. I am thankful, though, that she did not suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s so I was occasionally able to get away for short periods.
There were many other challenges over the first half of the year. Overall, my husband and I found caregiving to be an exhausting responsibility, emotionally and physically. Having another person living in the house meant we lost privacy and intimacy as a couple, too. Still, we strived to provide the best possible environment for his mom and can now rest assured that she was well-taken care of during her final months. She passed away in early July.
It has been a slow road towards reclaiming our lives since her passing. The demands on our time, energy, and resources had been significant and left lasting impressions. I am grateful I was able to attend caregiving support meetings while she was alive and grief support meetings after her passing. Both helped me deal with the emotional responses that have ranged from grief at her passing, relief that she is no longer in pain, relief that we can move on with our lives, and guilt that we found the caregiving experience stressful. Both groups helped tremendously with the feelings of isolation that happen with both caregiving and the grieving process.
I apologize for writing such a somber post right before Christmas but this was a huge part of our lives this past year. The next post will sum up the second half of 2015 with our new plans moving forward. While it has had its challenges, there is a sense of excitement and anticipation in starting a new chapter in our lives.