2007 "Give a Caregiver a Break" RUNNER-UP: Joan
Two years ago I welcomed the newest addition to my household, my mom; 85, but in child state. My role as her nurturer and caregiver has become what her role was in mine for so many years; that is, until dementia began to consume her mind and body four years ago.
Since she moved in with us, I have had to shift my priorities to keep her happy and healthy and to give my husband, three children and job enough time as well. Before Nanny (as my children call her) came into our home, I spent my mornings packing brown-bag lunches and sending good-luck wishes and advice for the day's trials and tribulations. Now I spend each morning from 7 to 9 waking Mom, changing her sheets and diaper, and taking our painfully slow but steady walk together to the kitchen for breakfast and then to the bathroom. After Mom's cleaned again and settled comfortably in the living room or on the front porch, I begin the morning routine for the rest of the family. And when the kids are off to school and my husband is off to work, I start my part of the day.
This type of routine is consistent for lunch and dinner as well. Although I initially took my at-home job years ago because it would enable me to spend more time with my kids, I find it a blessing that I can spend more time with my mother, too. I knew that taking her into our home would have a dramatic impact on my family; I just never realized how positive its effects would be for anyone other than my mom until I received an email from my oldest daughter upon her returning to her first year of college earlier this year after spending a holiday week at home with us.
She wrote: "Thanks for the pictures; Nanny looked so bright and happy! She was so eager to please everyone by trying to walk without her walker on Easter! I feel it's her way of reminding us that, despite her seemingly monotonous lifestyle, she really is just happy to be in the company of those she loves. That's what she thrives on Mom, the people around her—and, most importantly, YOU.
"I know you sometimes may feel all your efforts are in vain. Pushing her to get up and walk day after day is worth so much more than just the few feeble steps she may give you in return. You've given her back a sense of self worth, much more than a little mobility. You've granted her the ability to still believe in herself, and in her life. She no longer feels she needs to succumb to the degradation of her memory. You not only instilled hope in her, but in me as well. And since then, my opinions about optimism and hope have been completely transformed. And for that, Mom, I (and she) can never thank you enough."
—Joan Conquest, Mansfield, MA