I try. Honest I do. But it’s just not enough.
Mom is stuck in her trailer, nice though it is, (we’re not talking trailer trash here), but she doesn’t have any way to get out, go for a ride, go visit, go shopping—nothing, unless I take her. She can, sort of, walk up to the mailbox, but it’s a ¾ of a mile walk through the woods and she is exhausted if she tries it.
I imagine what it would be like for me to be stuck in a single place without getting to go out or see anyone. As an active person, the very idea gives me the willies. I admit, it’s wonderful to be able to curl up in bed and read and shut out the outside world—for a while. But to do it day after day for the rest of my life would take some getting used to. Mom is not used to it yet.
Because of that, I feel guilty that I don’t spend more time with her. I go out to feed her breakfast before taking the dogs for a walk and sit with her until she finishes. I spend time cutting up fruit, fixing the evening meal, or putting up freezer bags of spaghetti, her favorite. I come back at lunch and again at dinner, staying with her while she eats. But it’s never enough.
As I mentioned a while back, last time we went to the store, she bought three GALLONS of Blue Bell Ice cream because she “might not be able to get back to the store.” A pointed reference to the fact that I had been gone to a conference and she’d been left alone in the trailer.
I know there are friends who have had to put their parents in nursing homes. They may get a chance to visit once a day or once a week or even once a month. If the elderly parent is in a different city or a different state, the visits may only come once a year. I can see that it would be a relief. It’s what we have to do, but then we have to rationalize away our guilt, especially if there are complaints from our parents about not visiting. At least there is always activity around a nursing home.
What can I offer my mother to assuage the loneliness? She has read almost all of Lee Child’s 20 volume collection of Jack Reacher. She has read Matthew in the Bible. She has read Montesquieu and Plutarch’s Lives. She has read every philosophical book the OC (Other Caregiver) has brought her. She has read until her one good eye is blurry (the other eye has a cataract that she refuses to get fixed), something that scares me nearly to death. If she can’t see, then what will she do?
Television, now that she has more or less conquered the remote, provides some panacea. I just looked that up. It is a ‘supposed cure for all problems.’ Yup, that’s television. She has now become familiar with Judge Judy, with Ellen, with The Price is Right, and, of course, her old favorites, Jeopardy and Pat and Vanna on Wheel of Fortune. Oh, and she watches football. Lots of it, usually with the sound off! The choices are many and varied.
Does she get bored just sitting and watching television? Does she still get lonely? Does she wander from window to window, staring out at the garden and wishing for her husband Al? The idea that she might be doing that makes me feel guilty all over again. Do we, as caregivers, have to put our lives on hold in order to keep our elderly parents from feeling lonely?
A colleague and dear friend actually lost her job and her hopes for tenure because of having to care for her mother. Fortunately, I am retired but I am still busy and can’t spend all my time with Mom. It’s the guilt of knowing she is lonely that is so overwhelming. For that, I am grateful that she is leaving for Florida to rejoin her hubby Al–soon. Which brings on the guilt again.
Only five more days.
Holy Spirit, Consoler and Sustainer,
Buoy up all Caretakers on the rough seas of suffering.
Great enabling Spirit, take care of caretakers.
Give us energy to stand by as long as we can,
And then to let go of our loved ones to others’ care
When we are depleted and cannot do our best.
Holy Spirit, you care for us!
Holy Parent, you shelter us!
Holy Son, you shepherd us!
(taken from A Contemporary Celtic Prayer Book, Prayer for Caretakers)