Sundown Saturday and I’m home alone after a satisfying day: gym, shopping, visiting my husband. I decided to make myself a pizza and read. However, when leaving the memory care facility I encountered Lenny whose life story, unfolded in five minutes, shattered my peaceful evening. I began, “Your Dad asked for coffee, clearly.”“It’s a good day, then, I hope. But I hope he doesn’t ask about Mom who passed away last year and Dad doesn’t know.” He begins to cry. “I have no reason to go home, I’m single, so I come here every night to feed my Dad.”
What’s next? We have several “graduates” in our support group, members whose loved one has died during this past year. Not all the bereaved continue to attend the group, just as some who start with us, obtain the information and the support they need and do not return. But Lenny’s story is a compelling one. We have all spent the past several years caring lovingly for someone we have been very close to. Their current state of mind changes nothing, as we have the past years of our lives that we caregivers remember fondly and which maintain the bond.When our loved ones suffer, either physically or due to agitation or paranoia, we caregivers sometimes bemoan our lot and we imagine the day when all of our suffering and theirs will end. Some of us feel genuine relief when our loved ones’ suffering ends. But others, having suspended all of their individual goals and activities to care for parents or spouses are bereft; they have no life interests to which to return. In addition, some spouses are lacking in money to do more than just pay the bills after the cared for person dies.
So in this first month of the New Year when we all make resolutions to do something different this year, please think of what will come next, how will your life be, what can you do now to prepare and how can you access help to relieve you of some of your caregiving tasks so you can develop new goals, activities, work skills or hobbies that will sustain you now and later.
Respite care is available at all income levels. Please contact your local Area Agency on Aging as well as the volunteer committees of your church or synagogue for caregiving assistance, for social activities in which you could join, job training programs, art or craft activities, yoga or gym classes. It is important to join an Alzheimer's support group but it is also important to meet people who are concerned with activities that interest us, activities which are looking forward to the time when our lives are no longer dominated by caregiving.