“I’m Not Ready to Be a Caregiver…Am I?”

April 28, 2009 at 5:18 pm Leave a comment

I’m Carol D. O’Dell, and like many of you, I found myself unexpectedly caring for my mother. It was unexpected because honestly, I hadn’t given caregiving much thought. I was pretty busy with my own life—in my late 30s when it started, married, three children, career, and an active life of church and community activities, friends and family to keep me busy and content. Caregiving wasn’t a word I was even familiar with, much less sandwich generationer. It seemed like something someone else would do—for someone with a loved one in a care home.

Not me, not my home, not my life.
I remember saying out loud in the car, “I’m not ready to be a caregiver…am I?”

A little history: I was adopted at the age of four—and my parents were 54 and 58 when they adopted me. Of course, as a child I was embarrassed at my parents gray hair and strict ways. Now, I value that I was raised with Southern recipes and songs, a rich mixture of folklore and Bible stories, with values and ethics—and stories. Lots of stories. Being an only child, I listened. Okay, snooped, eavesdropped, and picked up on every last drop of gossip and innuendo.

I watched my mother “care give” my Daddy. We didn’t call it that. It’s just family taking care of family. They were husband and wife, and they loved each other deeply. Not a day went by I didn’t hear “I love you,” echo throughout our house. I spent much of my teen years sleeping on the orange vinyl chairs that only hospitals seem to have. Daddy had heart surgery, then another, and I witnessed love in action and am privileged to know what it’s like to willingly give of your time, energy and all you have to be with someone you love in those final years of life together.

The last words Daddy spoke to my mother, my husband and me were, “Be good and take care of each other.” That became our pact. I was all that Mama had, their only child, and although I had no idea what would come, I vowed to keep that promise.

Before my mother turned 80, she had a small stroke and was left with a lingering symptom—a shaking in her left hand and leg. A visit to a neurologist revealed that Mama had Parkinson’s. She forbid me to tell anyone and only referred to it as “P.D.” She started on medication and physical therapy and I “upped” my vigilance. I started calling a several times a day, visiting more often, accompanying her on all her doctor visits. If one cliché could describe my mother it would be “Nip it in the bud.”

I wondered how long she could continue to live “independently,” a term I use lightly since she had enlisted a small army of care at this point. By 1998, it was time to talk about moving my mother in with my family and me. She needed 24 hour supervision to prevent falls. I needed to make sure she was eating decently, taking her medicine on time (she had developed a heart condition in addition to her Parkinson’s and had experienced several small heart attacks). And even though I wasn’t ready to face it, I was beginning to see signs of dementia.

All six of us (my husband, three daughters, my mom and myself) moved from Georgia to Florida—my husband had a job transfer and this was the perfect “excuse” to get my mother to move with us. Over the years of caring for my mother, I had studied every aspect of care and the diseases my mother had. Books and writing had always been my passion and I had even begun to get published regularly—fiction and nonfiction. I researched how to best meet my mother’s needs—everything from diet to depression, from medication interactions to how to arrange our home for her to be able to get around as long as possible.

Factual information was easy to find, but my heart was aching. I had so many questions.

How do I live with my mother again? How do I maintain being “woman of the house” with the bossiest, most controlling person I know (besides me!) living with me? How do we not nit-pick each other apart? How do I deal with knowing that my mother is dying? How do I keep my marriage alive? My concerns went on and on.

I poured my soul, my questions, my angst, my deepest fears into a journal. I wrote about everything, even thoughts I was ashamed to admit. I wrote about the crazy, funny, sweet times that surprised us at every turn. I wrote about the darkest nights, the devastating blows, and arguments with doctors and care workers, the mother-daughter doozies—when we could lash out so ugly at each other. Our journey became a book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir.

I now spend much of my time talking and listening to caregivers and professionals in the geriatric field. I’ve been featured on CNN, in conferences and workshops, and my purpose is to let caregivers and their families know that they can not only survive their caregiving years—they can thrive.

Maybe you just started on your caregiving journey today. You have so many questions and worries. “How do I do this?” You ask. “What about me, my life?” The less than great news is that we all age, grow elderly, and sometimes frail. We get diseases. We suffer with pain. We need assistance. The good news is there is more than ever, there is a community of care—online and in your own home town.

You can find the resources you need.
You can find solutions, people to answer your questions and aids that make every day life easy.
You’re not alone.

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When Does Caregiving Begin?

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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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