Although I have been a caregiver for eight … yes … eight different family members and friends over the last 28 years, I am always astounded at the learning that comes with caregiving.
My 92-year-old mom lives 2 miles away from me. I’m not really her caregiver right now, in the sense that she is very healthy, very active, drives her own car, lives in her own house, and only calls on me and my siblings for the same things you might call on a friend or relative for. Until 2020, my mom went to the gym and church every day!
But she is 92 and we are in COVID-19.
I have reverted to the “I’m the parent and you’re the child,” routine a bit too often with this pandemic. I know it comes from fear and protection. I am my mom’s Mama Bear right now. I want to keep her that healthy, vibrant woman who still contributes so much to our family every day. And so I tighten the reins, I cajole, I complain, I even whine about what she should and should not do. Okay, honestly, I tell her what she can and cannot do.
You cannot go to church. You cannot go grocery shopping. You cannot see your friends. You cannot go to the doctor unless it’s important. You cannot go to the bank, the pharmacy, the coffee shop, the library.
This may be worse than when I cared for her with her broken shoulder and broken femur. Mothers and daughters will have their battles. Caregiving always has a bright line to be drawn when treating an adult like a child starts to happen. But the villain isn’t me (mostly). It is a virus. It’s out there and my focus is that it wants to kill my mom. I know, it’s dramatic. But I love my mom. My siblings love her, her friends, relatives, neighbors and church people all love her. We aren’t backing down.
It started with InstaCart. Mom and I would order online, they would drop the groceries on my front porch. I sanitized every box and package and re-pack and take her groceries to her house. We’ve gotten lax over time. Now I go to the store, bring her her groceries and we may or may not wipe them down. I even let her go with me one time. One time. But today, we decided that ends. Numbers are spiking. And I’m conflicted. It’s hard to stay home all the time. I understand. But it’s just not smart to take the risk.
We spent tons of money on groceries at first, spent tons of time scrolling through the virtual aisles on Instacart, splurged on ice cream and expensive cheeses. We spent. And we spent money on nothing else. We didn’t go out for lunch, go to the movies, the theater, the mall. Nowhere. We only spent money on groceries.
We weren’t spending on anything else. What we were spending was time together. More and more time together. I went nowhere but her house. Saw no one but my husband and my mom. And I began to realize, as an adjunct caregiver, the kind who is now running errands, and running interference with the world to protect my elder, that I was getting one of the greatest gifts. I was getting time with my mom and the world was not interfering. There were no meetings to go to. No parties, no weddings, no dinners, no sports, no events. Nothing. So, we spent time. We were lucky. We stayed healthy. We didn’t have to worry about work, shelter, health. We still are so very lucky. The gift of boredom gave us the gift of time.
I know that caregivers everywhere are being overtaxed, overwhelmed, overcharged with expenses. I know so many did not get the gift of time that they would surely have welcomed. It is daunting for millions right now. And I implore you to donate to food banks, your church may know a caregiver who could use your monetary help, or any other organization that you know will help a caregiver.
But if you are lucky enough to be a caregiver like me right now. Learn to appreciate the spending. Spending time has become the gift that, for now, keeps on giving. And I, for one work very hard to stay grateful.
Cathy Sikorski is an Elder Law attorney but has expanded her career to become a speaker, author and media guest to unravel the complex problems of caregiving and aging. As a caregiver for 8 different people, Cathy used her experience to author two books. Her last book Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones and Caregiving is a practical and legal guide that premiered as #1 on Amazon. Her first book, released by Humor Outcasts Press, Showering with Nana: Confessions of a Serial (killer) Caregiver, is a hilarious memoir. Cathy also has a blog, “You just have to Laugh,…where Caregiving is Comedy” at www.cathysikorski.com