The caregiver’s guilt trip

BeachLike most caregivers, I struggle with feelings of guilt. Even when I’ve done my best to manage my elderly mother’s healthcare, I wonder if I could have — or should have — done more. Focusing on this topic, “The Caregiver’s Guilt Trip” is my new column in the September 7 issue of Michigan Prime. If you’re a caregiver, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll share the column. The magazine is delivered to subscribers of the Sunday Detroit News and Free Press. You can read it online here.

Comforts of home


There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”  ~Jane Austen

My mother was discharged from the Woodward Hills nursing center on Friday. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a month since she was admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure. Not surprisingly, she missed her familiar surroundings at home, and was often confused during her weeks of recovery at the hospital and nursing center.

She’s very happy to be back home in her condo, needless to add. But now that she is, my hard work begins.

I’m back to dispensing and monitoring her meds, making her follow-up doctor appointments, and driving her to all of her medical visits. Not to mention overseeing a parade of home-care nurses and therapists.

So I’ll be spending a lot more time at my mother’s place until I can determine whether it’s really OK to leave her alone for the long run. While part of me tires out at the very thought of this responsibility, I also remember how glad I was that I’d spent more time with my father in the months before he died. Caring for loved ones helps redefine my priorities.

Yesterday, the visiting nurse discovered that Mom’s blood pressure was dangerously low, prompting an emergency call to the doctor. We were told to change the dosage of Mom’s blood pressure medications. (I cut 14 tiny pills in half.) I’m hoping that the sudden drop in blood pressure explains why my mother’s dementia seemed worse than usual. She kept forgetting what day it was, and the nurse and I suspected that Mom may have overdosed on her morning medications. Earlier that morning, I had noticed an open bottle of pills on the counter, which she’d apparently retrieved from a cupboard. I’ve been advised to hide any pills that I haven’t placed in her weekly pill organizer.

She’d much rather live on coney dogs, ice cream, and chocolate-covered cherries.

Another ongoing challenge is helping her shop for heart-healthy food. After unpacking her belongings back at the condo, I took her to shop for groceries at Hollywood Market, our nearest grocery store. I’ve been trying to show Mom how to make healthy choices, but it’s not easy. Oatmeal and low-sodium foods, unfortunately, are not on her list of favorites. She’d much rather live on coney dogs, ice cream, and chocolate-covered cherries. Not exactly what Dr. Dean Ornish recommends for patients with heart disease.

For Mom’s first meal home, I made a large pot of vegetarian chili — enough to stretch for several meals and to share with a neighbor. Which brings me to the topic of this week’s Royal Oak Patch column. “Cooking for Comfort” is my tribute to simple home-cooked meals. The column recounts how I learned to appreciate kitchen work after years of avoiding it. I hope it will inspire you to make a soul-filling pot of soup or stew to warm your winter night.  Please click here to read it. –CL

Winging it

The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.”  ~Max Lerner

When the walls around my little world seem to be caving in, my first impulse is to isolate myself while I put the bricks back in place. Luckily, I have a great support system to help bolster those walls and to remind me that I’m really not in this thing alone.

Earlier this week, my 80-year-old mother was in the hospital with a broken rib and multiple compression fractures in her spine. Meanwhile, my husband’s own mother has been leaning heavily on him to avert a family crisis of a different kind. There’s been so much going on in our realm of elder care, in fact, that the two of us are operating in what we call “divide and conquer mode.” Yet through it all, Doug always makes time to sit down and listen to my daily litany of “What’s wrong with Mom now.” He’s my main port in the storm.

While my mother wants to remain independent in her own condo, her health issues (including early stage dementia) now require a team of home-care professionals to make that possible. Thank goodness, by the time my mother was discharged from the hospital, her internist had ordered a nurse, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist to work with her at home several times a week. When the discharge nurse informed me of this development, I fought tears of relief. At first, Mom objected to the idea of having strangers in the house to assist her. But when I explained that I’ll need help in order to help her, she reluctantly backed down.

Of course, this is only a temporary solution. As a retired RN reminded me, determining how to care for our elderly — with love and dignity — is one of the toughest challenges for my generation. Whether you’re an only child like me, or have five handy siblings willing to roll up their sleeves, you need a plan to care for your aging parents. Another friend is wrestling with similar issues for her widowed mom — and she still has teenagers at home. Her brothers live out of state, so, as she put it, she’s been functioning almost as if she were an only child.

Meanwhile, dear ones have warmed my heart and soul with supportive notes and cards and e-mails.  Shirley sent three chocolate bars with a sweet note that read, “These will help.” (And yes, they did.) My aunt volunteered to help with Mom’s meals and grocery shopping. And out of the blue, my neighbor Joanne invited me to a spiritual program at the nearby Manresa Jesuit retreat center yesterday. The program focused on the role of the Blessed Mother Mary, and circled around the theme of nurturing and “mothering” ourselves when life seems to ask too much of us. How perfect was that?

When I was preparing for my second hip replacement surgery back in 2002, my friend Jenny sent me a wonderful quote from Patrick Overton. My blog friend Marlynn, who didn’t know that I had already received the quote, sent it to me again last week. (Marlynn reminds me that there are no “coincidences.”) It worked like a charm the second time around, and I’d like to share it with you:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen to you: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or, you will be taught how to fly.”

Thanks so much, everyone, for winging it with me. — Cindy La Ferle

— Collage in photo is from “Nature,” an altered book, by Cindy La Ferle —