Circle of Caregiving

The thought just hit me, as I was driving in my car this morning, that yesterday was the six-year anniversary of my father’s passing, at age 81.  In remembrance of that, I wanted to share a column I wrote that was published in the Dallas Morning News in the same year, 2003.  I think it speaks volumes to a lot of people but unfortunately it got buried on an inside, all black and white page among many ads, so I’m not sure a lot of people noticed.  I hope a lot of people will notice now.


Caregivers’ Cares Span Generations
by Patricia Long Allbee

Never in my wildest imagination, when I was deciding to become a full-time Mom, did I think that someday my own mother would have someone in diapers shortly after I did. Granted, while her brand of choice is Depends and the person she’s taking care of is over seven decades older than my children, the similarities of our situations have been amazing.  At first I just noticed a few— I brush my 4-year-old’s teeth at night, she brushes Dad’s; I use a baby monitor to sometimes keep an ear on my children; she asked to borrow it so she could hear Dad better; she worried for weeks about what it would be like to take Dad on an airplane, ditto for me for my first plane trip with children. But when she phoned me one day in exasperation, saying, “I can never get anything done.  I never have any time for myself.  He’s calling to me, wanting something all the time!” it was a strong déjà vu experience, and I realized that the “circle of life” is much more than a song from a Disney musical. I have also realized that for the first time, I can be a shoulder for Mom to lean on, returning the favor of a lifetime of Mom always being the solid rock.

She is grateful for my empathy and words of encouragement.  I knew exactly what she meant when she e-mailed and said some days she can’t even take a shower for fear of him hurting himself.  I nodded knowingly when she told me that he was always bored if she took him along to the grocery store or hair salon but leaving him home would mean having to hire a sitter, and that could get expensive.  I shared her frustration at the story of her spending a physically demanding day of caregiving only to get yelled at by Dad at day’s end.  And boy could I relate about not getting any sleep due
to someone constantly needing something in the night —I remember being a walking zombie when my children were infants, and sometimes it’s still hard to get a complete night’s sleep.

“Finally, someone understands,” she says.

I am careful, however, not to be flippant and act like our situations are exactly the same, because I’m well aware that they’re not.  In spite of dealing with public tantrums, numerous lost shoes, and permanent marker stains on the wallpaper, there is a lot of joy that goes with my caregiving.  I’m nurturing and growing young people, looking forward to them reaching their fullest potential, with a husband to help me.  She’s watching someone slowly fade away—someone she’s loved and to which she’s devoted most of her life, and she’s doing it alone, 13 hours away from me and many more hours away from my siblings.

For extra support, I encouraged her to hire someone two or three days a week to sit with Dad and take care of tasks such as bathing and dressing.  “I have Mother’s Day Out,” I told her.  “You need one, too!” 

I also encouraged her to get together with friends who had gone through a similar experience.  I told her I’d found lots of my own support in neighbors, in my babysitting co-op and in a group called Mothers of Preschoolers. But even though she has numerous friends, she has never been one to share a lot of personal details, and didn’t want to be a “bother” to them.

So I continue to be Mom’s sounding board, trying to relate when I can, which is still surprisingly more often than not.

“I just can hardly take the stress anymore,” Mom said through tears one day.  “And I feel so bad because I told him so!” Ah, guilt… how often have I cried over how I sometimes react to my kids in a not-so-patient way and say things I wish I hadn’t.

A few months ago at a family wedding reception, she and I found ourselves in the same buffet line.  Mom lamented that she was ‘starving’ but that she couldn’t eat yet since she always has to fix a plate for Dad first.  Then she looked down at my plate, and, pointing to the kid-sized portions on it, laughed.

“You, too, huh?” she asked.
“Me, too,” I replied.

10 thoughts on “Circle of Caregiving”

  1. I cannot begin to describe how much your article touched me! Your parents provide me with some of my warmest growing-up memories. Your writing describes them beautifully. And your children are so very lucky to have an uncool mom!

  2. Thanks for being a faithful reader and such a big support for me– guess I should expect nothing less from the first friend I ever had!

  3. Thank you – what a gift, so beautifully expressed. We are becoming familiar with this with trying to support and encourage my mother-in-law as my father-in-law sinks into dementia. It is painful – uncharted waters. We too, have encouraged her to get support, but met with similar reluctance on her part. That’s why they call us the “sandwich generation,” I think. And I cannot help but wonder what life will be like for me & my hubby in another 25 years……

  4. Hi Pam,

    Thanks for writing this; I am fortunate in that my own parents are still in good shape both mentally and physically, but I know how quickly that may change.

    It’s so hard to have divided loyalties as a parent and as a child. I don’t feel I do enough in either direction, or for my husband, or for myself. Never lacking in opportunities to feel guilty, eh?!

    Hope your Mom can hang in there, and I know she appreciates your support.

  5. Yes, I wonder, too, and I remember the Love and Logic people saying something about thinking carefully about how we parent, since our kids will be our caregivers in the future, or at least helping make decisions about our care.  Yikes!!  I better stay healthy!

  6. Thanks so much for visiting my blog and for your comments! Thanks also for your email– I will definitely check out that website. I do live in Texas and hope to get to Austin someday for the South By Southwest Technology Conference (or a blogging conference like the one held recently in Houston) so hopefully I will see you there!

  7. My grandmother passed away 10 days ago and I never understood or related to her frustrations about taking care of my invalid grandfather for 3 months before he died. He fell and had a hip fracture and she would yell almost everyday, complaining about him. I never realized once how difficult it was for her, only that she complained about him. Thanks for opening my eyes, though it is too late for me to offer her apologies now. I hope she forgave me…….

  8. Thank you so much for your comment.  Since grandparents are older and wiser, they usually do forgive those much younger, often when we don’t know it!  And your grandmother may have hoped her husband forgave her, if she got frustrated or angry in front of him– I know my Mom still feels guilt. I wish aging was easier– in this day and age, you’d think it would be!
    Thanks again–

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