My Grandparents, Mom, and me

I was 15 the Easter my grandfather suffered a stroke. He was a big man, and my Grandmother was petite. I called her “Little Grandma.” I remember Grandpa lying in his bed upstairs. He had Grandma attach a sturdy rope to the end of the iron bed frame so he could pull himself to a sitting position. He could make anything work, one way or another. Still, it wasn’t enough for Little Grandma. She was overwhelmed.

In those days, doctors made house calls. Imagine that! My Mom, Grandma, and I sat in her parlor waiting for his physician’s professional advice. He was very quiet. He had nothing. Zilch.

This was before we had medications to treat strokes.  Physical Therapy? Forget it. Not on this doc’s radar anyway. To be fair, it was not the resource it has become now.

Grandpa developed pneumonia from being bedridden because none of us knew how to get a half-paralyzed, heavy man from bed to chair easily. Consequently, he developed hypostatic pneumonia. He was not blowing off the moisture one does when moving about, thus leaving fluid residue in the lungs that promotes infection — hence the term “hypo” (lower) “static” (not moving). He was hospitalized, lying in bed all day there too, while being treated with antibiotics. When he was well enough, or ran out of allotted hospital days, off he went, fighting all the way, to a nursing home. He died that June. My Grandmother struggled with care giving all of two months, tops.

That’s the way it was back then.  Ailing family members usually did not live very long. Now we have an arsenal of pharmaceuticals to treat strokes and any complications that may arise.  Physical therapy plays a huge role in regaining lost or reduced function. We do not leave patients, no matter how heavy, in bed all day. Nowadays, my Grandmother could look forward to 5, 10, maybe 15 years of caring for Grandpa.

Oh goodie.

In many ways, it is good. We have more time to love and treasure each other. It could be a time to grow closer, resolve old issues, learn to trust God like never before. I believe the human spirit can blossom in all kinds of soil, especially when God waters that soil with his grace.

But there is a dark side to care giving. It can be overwhelming, discouraging, and exhausting. Not every care receiver is cheerful, either. The care receiver can be struggling with pain, despair, anger, or fear. I know I’m not fun to be around when I’m dealing with those feelings.

In time, care givers’ worlds shrink as care demands keep them home. They no longer easily do things with their loved ones that they once enjoyed. They see less of their friends. Medical bills pile up. Medical equipment and supplies supplant what was once attractive home “decor.” The care giver may not remember what a full night’s sleep felt like.

And getting trustworthy, affordable help is difficult.  Most care givers just shoulder their burdens and “keep on truck’in.”

I know. I did that for my parents and now for my dear husband. This time, I am prepared. After my parents passed away, I wondered how care givers, who were not in the health care profession, could navigate these treacherous waters. I had no difficulty questioning my mother’s physician or asking to borrow needed equipment. (My town’s volunteer ambulance company loans walkers, crutches, etc. for people to use and then return.)

I decided to do research for the legions of people like me who really needed their own nurse because care giving can pose a risk to the caregiver’s health. The person receiving care may be medically stable, but the person caring for him or her may suffer sleep deprivation, high blood pressure, and depression. There were no nursing interventions at that time to help caregivers other than to encourage people to express their feelings and “support the family” (whatever that meant).

I did the research with the help of my professors at Alfred University. I worked in home care where I could deal directly with care givers, and joined an organization called “Greater Rochester Partnership for the Elderly – (GRAPE). We in GRAPE produced a resource manual so people could find what was available to help them in our area. Monthly meetings for networking and sharing information proved invaluable.

I think the Lord prepared me for my current situation as I care for my husband with far more tools than I had when I cared for my parents.

I know you are out there, care givers. You are legion and growing because nursing home, and even home, care is wildly expensive. People are sicker and living longer. Seventy years olds are caring for eighty and ninety year olds.

Join the conversation, share your stresses and celebrate your joys. Let’s identify problems, ask questions, seek solutions, and find support from those of us who know exactly what you are going through.

We care givers are not alone.

I would love to send to you a copy of the article I wrote for Hope for Women Magazine. In it, I share how damaging loss of control was for my mother when I believed it was my turn to be the supportive parent — like Mom was for me. Request “Loss of Power” in the comment area below and I will send it to your email address.