Saturday, September 26, 2009

24/7 With Bandar

Every day with Bandar, I experience moments of gratitude and love. No exceptions.

My journey thus has been good for my soul. Every day.

At the same time there's a very different reality at work.

To the surprise of no one, care-taking for an elderly loved one is not all flowers and sunshine and fun and happiness leading to a steady stream of precious life-changing epiphanies.
It looks more like this.
Every day with Bandar means stopping what I'm doing to adjust Bandar's feet, which rest on her special foot pillow, because "they feel like fire"; to make a meal, fill a cup, exercise with her or help her onto or off of the toilet.

It's occasional trips to the ER or more routine visits with any of seven doctors or with her dentist or physical or occupational therapists. It's repeating myself (repeatedly) because she cannot understand my English or hear well enough (because she resists using her hearing aid). It's refereeing Sophie's family members during animated strategy discussions or scheduling family members for turns at Bandar-sitting. It's reminding myself that I shouldn't expect thanks or gratitude in return for my sacrifices and services -- that any benefit I receive as the result of my efforts will disappear the moment I build up such expectations. It's balancing current reality with wishes for recovery, expectations, hopes, fears and faith.

Much of this was put in perspective for me after reading a short essay by freelance writer Melissa Musick Nussbaum, who is charged with caring for her 89-year-old, live-in mother. Writing for Celebration magazine, Nussbaum suggests that being responsible around the clock is a very different prospect than portrayed in Mitch Albom's Tuesday's With Morrie, the story that inspired me in part to start this blog.

"Albom spent Tuesdays with Morrie. And not even Tuesday nights. Just Tuesdays. During the day. Working hours. I can stand anyone for one day a week during business hours. I want to read 24-7 With Morrie. And the sequel: I Killed Morrie and No Jury in America Would Convict Me.

"...I want to read about the daily-ness of old age, the daily-ness of sickness, the daily-ness of death, the daily-ness of care. I don’t want to read about visitors. I want to read about keepers. For, as any housekeeper knows, it is daily work. It is the same work, done better or worse, over and over again.

"...And as it is with the work of housekeeping, so I hope it is with the work of love. Just as sweeping is an act, and not a thought, so love is an act, and not a feeling. My work is to open the Tylenol bottle, to speak up and speak slowly, to offer my arm, to help her in and out of the car, to listen. Just that, song in my heart or not. And, task by task, day by day, I become my mother’s keeper."
Our work as caregivers is to do the work, if only for the sake of love and service. Through that work may we find the gift of God's love and may we be blessed in turn with the experience of joy and happiness.
Melissa Musick Nussbaum's "My Mother's Keeper" appeared in the June issue of Celebration magazine, a sister publication of the National Catholic Reporter, where the story was reprinted July 13. Thanks to our good friend and neighbor John Shields for thinking of Sophie and me when he read Nussbaum's piece and made sure to get us a copy.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what would happen if my father or my mother-in-law needed to depend on us for daily care. So far we've been lucky. My mother-in-law lives in a senior complex near my husband's sister, who has always been dutiful in the caregiving department. If the time comes that she needs assisted living, she has some financial resources to cover that.

    My dad is still pretty able-bodied, though we've seen him slow down in the last 5 years or so.

    I suppose when there is nobody able to do what you do, Steve, people are forced to hire in-home care or find some other way. It's kind of a scary thought, but I guess all middle-aged people will cross that bridge when they come to it. Don't really know if you can build contingency plans for something like this.

    It's kind of the miracle of things working themselves out somehow.