Posts Tagged ‘housekeeper’

Making it Easy for Others

House

When you make the life-altering decision to be a HANC, know your choice will affect others. Once you move into another person’s home, especially with your spouse, your life ceases to be exclusively your own. If that home belongs to a parent, your status as a competent adult will be challenged.

old woman

Regardless of frailties or medical conditions, your parent will always be your parent. You will hear things to make you wonder how your transition from child to adult had been overlooked. When siblings come to visit, they are not visiting you in your home. They are returning to their childhood home or coming home to Mom and Dad’s house. They will expect to find things as they had been for years and some will not be happy to see changes.

I need space

Make it easy on others by keeping things as close to how they were when you moved in. Change things slowly, subtly. It’s imperative to remember that your caregiving is a long-term commitment, if you are fortunate. It does not necessarily obligate you to live in another person’s home forever. At some point, your parents’ home may become your home, or you may return to a home of your own. Then, you can turn your energy toward redecorating or claiming your own space.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Until then, remember to do what you can to make things easier for others, so they will want to make things easy for you. They may not ease your stress, but they might lighten your workload. Even if they don’t, maintain your sense of humor. Stay flexible. Remember why you made the decision to become a caregiver and know that this is temporary.

sign

I’d heard, “I don’t know where anything is anymore,” from my mother and, “You’ve moved everything,” from my sisters so often, I’d begun to believe the myth that I’d moved things in my attempt to organize.

grits note

So I did something I thought might help on the occasional days my husband and I left the house, something I never would have considered under other circumstances. I labeled the kitchen cabinets. I thought it would help when we took our first full weekend off, but my sister still couldn’t find the grits.

grits shelf

Just smile and remember the real reason you made the choices you did.

Do Over

There are many things I wish I could go back and do a different way, where providing care for my mother is concerned.

I can’t do over anything, but if I could, I would:

  • Move in sooner so I had more time with my mother.

  • Be sure I knew where all her documents were before moving in and avoid the needle-in-the-haystack searches.

  • Write a sort of contract with my whole family’s input so everyone knew our roles clearly. Know beforehand, who already had roles to play and what they were.

  • Include in that contract what I was able and willing to contribute and what I expected in return.

  • Set up a backup to the verbal respite plan. As good as it sounds when someone says, “Just call me if you need help,” and “I’m here for you,” I’d remember that words carry little weight at 4 in the morning or when busy schedules interfere with my need for time off.

  • Set up a backup to the backup so my breaks and respite care are ensured. Have an emergency backup in place before I need it.

  • Before moving in, take extra time to discover the family’s understanding of the situation. I’d include them more and make sure they included me, too.

  • Insist that all my siblings and their children take time to do a Four Generation photo sooner, rather than wishing we had.

  • Listen more.

  • Play more.

  • Dance more.

  • Sing more (even if it is off key).

  • Go more with the flow and less against the stream.

  • Clean less.

  • Communicate better.

  • Prepare for the finality of the situation. In other words, I would have a plan in place for when my job as HANC ends, rather than wondering what I should do.

I may have other areas I’d like to do over, but first, I’d like to hear from you. What would you like to do over in your life? Not just as a caregiver, but in your life in general or in your “other career,” what would you like to do differently, if given the chance?

Write me at marybrotherton@gmail.com

and let’s start a dialogue about change!

 

 

 

Caregiver Dreams

I never dreamt I would become a caregiver and spend my life as a housekeeper, activities director, nutritionist and companion to my aging mother. Not one of my daydreams involved the minutiae of being a HANC.

Daydreams of Night

Like life lessons, some dreams recur until we learn from them. Others don’t need repetition to impress us. Dreams are powerful messengers that can take years to unravel.

When I was a child, I had a dream so frightening that I woke, as many children do, screaming and shaking.

Recurring dreams

My fairy-friends rested on my fingers and granted my requests until the day I sent them away with insults. Soon after, an enormous frog sat on me; only my hands, feet and head weren’t covered. I was terrified of frogs and thought I was going to die underneath this one. I called out to my fairies who reminded me that I’d said I no longer needed them in my life. I begged and pleaded, but they were adamant. They would do nothing for me. Once I apologized and promised to be a good girl, the frog vanished and I was free.

Pewter Fairy

In 2002, I learned about a television series that dealt with dream interpretation, so I contacted the producer to see if he was interested in the dream that had remained a vivid memory for more than thirty years.

Film Crew

The Dream Team didn’t last long as a show on the Sci-Fi channel, but the interpreter’s thoughts about my nightmare linger.

Terrible dream

The interpreter asked about my occupation and when I said I was a writer and editor, he told me I was in the wrong field. The dream – to him – clearly indicated that I should be in a healing profession such as nursing or massage therapy, since my hands played a vital role in the dream.

hand on tree

The frog indicated a potential for change or the unexpected.

Tree frog

He suggested that the fairies represented my relationships with others and with my spiritual self. He then encouraged me to do some soul-searching to determine if I should pursue a medical career.

fairy

I did not wish to change careers.

The interpreter said he thought that since I had remembered a dream I’d had three decades earlier, this was itself, a powerful omen. He urged me to put serious thought into what the dream foretold.

Blue dreams

I dismissed the encounter as a fanciful lark. My telephone interview didn’t air before the show cancelled and I continued as a writer/editor.

Pages of edited work

A few years later, a friend suggested I join her at a local paint-your-own-pottery studio for an afternoon of creative exploration. When I saw the fairy riding on the back of a frog, I knew it was the only piece for me. It was as if the dream, rather than recurring night after night, manifested itself to me every ten years or so.

Frog and Fairy

Some days, when things aren’t going as well as I’d like, I wonder if I knew, when I was in grade school, that one day I would be a caregiver to my mother. It doesn’t matter what I knew as a child or whether my dream was prescient. All that matters today is that I am able to make a difference in the quality of her life.

Halcyon

Prepare Thyself!

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States of America, conservationist and creator of the National Park System, advised, “Make preparation in advance. You never have trouble if you are prepared for it.”

National Park System

EDC, Every Day Carry, refers to “small items or gadgets worn, carried, or made available in pockets, holsters, or bags on a daily basis to manage common tasks or for use in unexpected situations or emergencies. In a broader sense, it is a lifestyle, discipline, or philosophy of preparedness.”

Handy when needed

Long before I became a HANC (Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Companion) for my mother, I knew the value of being prepared and the adage promoting “A place for everything and everything in its place.”Yellow leather bag

I am still working on the place issue and have abandoned a few ideals along the way. I’m learning how insignificant some of my personal quirks and preferences are.

It does not matter if the cups and glasses end up on the same shelf. If the teaspoons and tablespoons end up where I wanted the forks, who cares? Towels dry just as well from the third shelf as they would if they were placed on the second.

martini on a shelf

My mother often repeats a story she heard as a child whenever she wants to commend me on my preparedness.

Betsy often went with her sister who was a midwife. One time, the midwife was delivering a baby and discovered she had left her scissors at home. Betsy, who was not a midwife, pulled a pair of scissors from her basket and said, “Betsy’s ready. Betsy’s got her scissors.”

Metal Scissors

I might seem as if I am organized and know where everything is, but some days I don’t feel as if any amount of planning or preparedness training will equip me.

Everything in its place

            I haven’t been prepared to hear some of the things my mother has said to friends on the phone.

  • Oh, I never go anywhere.

I make a point to take her as often as she is willing to go to places she needs to go – stylist, doctors, church, family – and places she might find interesting such as museums, farmers’ markets or just driving to see landscape and homes.

traffic

 

  • I can’t go see her and she won’t come to me.

Now, I feel like a warden in a prison. I’ve recited names of family and friends I’d like to visit with her and she tells me she does not want to go see them, can’t make the ride that far, won’t be able to climb the steps into the home or they should come to her.

prison

 

  • Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy having them here, but . . .
  • I don’t do anything. Every day is the same. I just sit in my chair and do my puzzles.

I have scheduled my editing work around my mother’s day. I usually work long after she has gone to bed.

 

puzzle books

What’s a HANC to do?

Take a deep breath and realize that whatever happens between girlfriends on a phone call – even old girlfriends – is between girlfriends and shouldn’t be taken personally. Often, these calls, especially among the elders, are just for passing time together.

lifetime friends

Try to find reasons for those drives. Need milk? Bread?  Cookies?

C is for cookie

Do you have something to return to a sibling or friend? Turn simple errands into expeditions by taking a new route and look for streets with slow speed limits so you can take in the sights or discuss your surroundings.

Keep asking. Eventually, you’ll hear

Ear

“That sounds like a good idea.”

Make memories that might stick for future phone calls and perhaps one day, you’ll overhear:

            I’m not sure when, but she took me to the museum and we saw things that reminded me of my childhood. … One day, we went out to some parking lot and just gazed up at the clouds, just like I used to do with my cousin, but we stayed in the car instead of lying on Momma’s porch. … We went to the church festival and it was nice to see all the people there; I didn’t know so many of them missed me. … We do so many things together; she and I bake cakes and cookies and we go shopping together!

clouds above mountains

You might not hear these things, but it won’t hurt to make the memories for yourself – just in case.

            Take the steps necessary to prepare yourself for what awaits. Study, read, research and talk with other HANCs. Get ready for the good days and the bad and know there will always – and I mean always – be something you didn’t expect.

stairs

By all means plan and prepare. Just know when you become a HANC, you cannot plan for every contingency. Do your best and accept that your best is just right.tall flag at mountain

Mommasez

One of the best things about caregiving, or being a HANC—in addition to knowing you are providing much-needed Housekeeping skills, directing some new Activities, providing healthy Nutritional options and being a Companion—is having the honor of hearing stories and historical remembrances.

Even more so, are short stand-alone sentences, or what I call Mommasez.

Traveling with mom

Because I now live with my mother and spend time with her, going to doctors’ appointments, to have her hair styled, to visit family and out for meals, we talk on our way to these places. Naturally, we also talk at home.

large man in small chairMommasez things that make me shake my head in disbelief.

“When I am on my deathbed and they hook me up to whatever it is they hook people up to before they die, make sure to pour one last cup of coffee in a bag. I want to die with coffee in my veins.”

laughing woman

Mommasez things that make me laugh.

“People say ‘I’m pretty sure.’ Have you ever heard anybody say they were ugly sure?”

bowls of grapes

Often, current events spark memories from her childhood. One such memory came after I brought her a large bowl of grapes harvested from the scuppernong vine in her back yard.

“When I was a child, every fall, there was a man who would stop our bus driver and tell him, ‘Bring the children back tomorrow for grapes.’ The next day, our mothers would give us paper bags, because we didn’t have plastic in those days. Sometimes, the paper bags would have a wax lining, but not usually. So, after school, the bus would stop at his house and all the children got off and picked all the grapes we could take home. Our mothers made jelly and it didn’t cost anything. Well, they had to buy sugar and jars, but that’s how we did it in those days. We all helped one another.”

Momma says things

Mommasez things that make me wonder.

“No, I do not want to visit my cousin in the hospital. They might lock the door and never let me out.”

Mommasez things that would have shocked me years ago, but I have learned she often wants to see if I will have a witty remark.

shower

“Ooh, this shower is better than sex,” makes me reply, “Obviously you truly have lost all your memories, or you always slept with the wrong men.”

She and I both know she has had sex with a total of two men, each her husband; the second following a forty-year marriage to my father, more than twenty-five years after his death.

laughter

My goal is one belly laugh each day. Now that we’ve settled into our own rhythm, we sometimes achieve more than one good guffaw.

save the world

I have started to enjoy her simple needs without imposing my desires upon her. Relaxed in my instinct to take-over-the-reins-and-aright-the-world, I take pleasure in her happiness. I certainly share her frustrations.

parking permit

My mother is fiercely independent, even in a state of disability. Less than a decade ago, she maintained her own home and worked outside the home. Family members assisted with yard work under her supervision.

Sandberg's canes

She cooked, cleaned, handled her finances and was one of the healthiest people in the family. She recovered from her first serious fall well and managed with a cane.

Mommasez things that are profoundly sad, at times.

large family

“I can die now. I know I will never be this happy again,” she told me the night of her eightieth birthday, six years ago.

That was the first time in twelve years all eight of her children were together, most with our children and her great-grandchildren attending.

Walker

She fell again and broke much more than one bone, as in her first tumble. Still, her independent streak fights her limits. She uses a walker for every step she takes, yet there are times, she attempts chores by leaning on other things, some that are not sturdy or steady. When I offer to take over a task that seems too much for her, she scolds me.

“Let me do what I can, while I still can. Soon enough, you will have to do it all for me and you’ll wish I could do it, even if me have to fweep it twice.”

sweeper

“Fweep it twice,” is a reference to my youngest sister who longed to do anything she could to feel more grown up. When she was four years old, she started sweeping the kitchen and someone took the broom from her and told her she was too small to do a good job, as she had left some crumbs. My sister reclaimed the broom with the statement, “Me fweep it twice!”

Time is precious

Youngsters and oldsters need to feel useful and important. It’s the responsibility of those of us in the middle to help them in their quests. We, who are more experienced or healthier, may indeed do the job faster or better – but we can always sweep it twice. We must remember the important things are not the tasks we do for our loved ones, but the time we spend with them.

kitchen

Momma says she wants to be more helpful in the kitchen and I don’t mind. It’s my job to set her up for success and to enjoy the time we have together. If I’m lucky, I might even hear few more things Mommasez.

I am not a Nurse!

Uniforms and hats

I’ve worn some interesting hats over the years, but of all the hats I’ve worn, a nurse’s cap was never one.

             Ask my brothers and sisters and they will tell you that I am not a nurse. I’m the family erudite. As a child, I played school, not hospital. I pretended to be a teacher, not a nurse or a doctor.

            So, why did I volunteer to become a caregiver? Why am I my mother’s HANC?

Woman on scooter

She needed help with Housekeeping, because her limited mobility prevents her from doing all but basic cleaning and home maintenance. This same handicap, brought on by the fall that broke her hip and precipitated an entire shoulder replacement, controls the amount of Activities in which she can participate.

good food

Her dependency on a walker and her failing memory restrict her ability to prepare Nutritious meals. Although she has lived alone for nearly three decades, it was clear her limitations were preventing her from many social interactions; she needed Companionship.

            She needed a HANC, not a nurse.

woman on phone

Every day requires I employ my Housekeeping and Nutritionist skills, but the need for me to be her sole Companion changes if friends or family call or come to visit.

book

Her willingness to engage in activities other than watching television, crocheting or working word puzzles  is contingent on her energy levels. If her overall health declines, she needs a nurse, not a Companion or Activity director.

She’s had a few bouts of illness. Only one, so far, resulted in hospitalization. That’s when I realized I am not a nurse.

tray of medical items

Nurses run on schedules and panicked calls from patients. My shifts run twenty-four, not eight or even just sixteen hours. Some nurses taught me how to control her pain by adjusting her body and supporting it with pillows. Other nurses taught me the strength in a gentle touch and the power of a calm demeanor. Some taught me they care more for a patient prior to receiving discharge orders than they do for those eager to go home.

pain meds

One nurse displayed a preference for medication rather than providing attentive nursing care.

Unfortunately, I learned my mother respects a nurse’s authority more than her daughter’s opinion. Still, no matter how caring, compassionate and qualified a nurse can be, family is always better.

family photo

Even a family as goofy as mine!

Better you than me

busy as a bee

Being caregiver to an elderly loved one is similar to parenthood. The demands don’t end after an eight-hour shift. Downtime is minimal. Some days, no amount of expressed gratitude can compensate for the private sacrifices and personal exhaustion.

two bees

Married HANCs who choose to provide Housekeeping, direct Activities, prepare tasty, Nutritious meals and offer fulltime Companionship may find privacy especially precious. It’s vital to seize moments of intimacy and search for opportunities to be alone with your spouse while maintaining balance in your care-giving roles.

solo bee

Conversely, it is essential to find time to be alone, with friends and to seek personal activities that sustain and support emotional stability. This is particularly important for the solitary or single HANC.

bee duo

The role of companionship for yourself is no less important than providing healthy meals or stimulating activities and maintaining a well-kept home. Remember why you made the decision to become a HANC but don’t let the decision monopolize your life.

fuzzy bee

            From time to time, you will hear things that affirm your decision.

fat bee

A sister said, “Thanks so much for being there—1,000 times.”

Thistle flower with bee

When a friend learned of our move, he wrote in an email:

“I think what you’re doing is fantastic. I wish I could have been there for my father more than I was at the end.”

bee on flower

A business acquaintance told me, “You are doing a wonderful and selfless thing.”

Florida bee

A brother wrote, “Thank you again for your being there. I am so grateful to you for taking this leap in faith to move in with Momma.”

Marigold bee

A colleague wrote, “You have sacrificed a lot to be there for your mother.”

Pollen hunter

Yet one of the briefest and most profound statements came from my sister-in-law.

Better You Than Me!

The Little House in the Country

City HallI was thrilled when I first moved from my lifelong hometown, with a population of 5,360 – according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau – to Atlanta, with well more than 900 times that.

City scape view

At the time, I needed to be absorbed into the city’s anonymity, to feel the pulse of cultural diversity. Several years later, I downsized the city but upgraded my lifestyle.

House in the suburbs

We moved from a small two-bedroom apartment on a fourth-floor walk-up into a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage. About one-fifth the size of Atlanta, this city was still fourteen times larger than where I returned to report for HANC duties. As a HANC I am my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Caregiver.

Chef

Much of what I’ve done has been typical for a homemaker or a HANC. Cooking, cleaning, stimulating conversation; memory work; driving to appointments, refilling prescriptions, answering the telephone and coordinating with family and friends who want to visit; these are all things that for more than a decade, I have resolutely eschewed.

Why am I now thinking of sewing myself an apron?

World Book encyclopedias

I have fought to be atypical in all my endeavors. I never thought I was superior, yet I felt somehow different from others. One sister has called me the family dictionary for ages. A friend told me my knowledge is encyclopedic. A co-worker nicknamed me the breathing style guide. An employer thought I had moved to South Carolina from Chicago or Manhattan, because of my demeanor and lack of strong southern dialect. No wonder I sought to escape my small town.

            Yet, here I am.

Award

Thomas Wolfe wrote,

You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

    Yet, here I am.

I left my little house in the country for one of the largest cities in the U.S.A.

NAMPA AWARD   The whole enchilada

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filtered by my environment, I’ve lived my dreams of writing and editing.I am pleased that I seem to have achieved some level of glory and fame. I have no desire to escape time or memory. In fact, my mother’s fading memory is one of the things I hope to help her preserve. As Alzheimer’s begins to scar the surface of her recollections, I went back home, to my family, but not to my childhood.

place setting

I miss the culinary delights that are typically found in large cities, the hidden spots frequented on rare and special occasions. I do miss my friends, the bonds forged while working on our individual novels and short stories or as we groused about deadlines or unmet expectations. I miss my infrequent lunch and after-hours buddies.

Photo outing

I will have to find new photography field trippers and cultural outlets. Now, instead of one or two grandmothers, I am surrounded by them within my own family and it feels different. Good, but different.

house in the woods

I did not return to the Little House in the Country  as a child, seeking anything but peace of mind. For myself, primarily, as I ached every time I had to leave my mother, knowing her health declined daily. For my mother, secondarily, because in order for me to have peace of mind, I needed to provide her with a level of care and companionship that might ultimately improve her condition somewhat.

children in summer

I did not consider that I would provide peace of mind to my large family, but I have. Each one has conveyed in his or her own way how grateful they are to know that our mother is no longer alone.

I tend to act quickly to situations. I try to be prepared enough that I don’t overreact, but at times, I don’t work out all the scenarios. I had not considered how my transition to HANC-dom would impact others in the family. I just knew I had no option but to go home.

House in the country

My parents built The Little House in the Country and we moved into it when I was in the sixth grade. I was over-dramatic when I thought I would never see my best friends again. I thought I hated the new house and who could blame me?

two missing

I have four brothers and three sisters. The house had four tiny bedrooms. Now, it has two! The day we moved in, the house was “dried-in,” which means it had a sub-floor, four exterior walls, a roof and studs for interior walls. The electricity had been turned on and the plumbing was installed. There were no walls or doors inside the house. We had no privacy so my mother stapled sheets to the studs around the bathroom. Little by little, cardboard walls were also then stapled to the other rooms. As time and money allowed, sheet-rock was installed.

Worden parents

My mother told me she had moved frequently once she married my father and when they moved into the newly-built, but unfinished house, she told him,

“This is the last time I am moving. If you want to live somewhere else, you will have to do it without me. I am not leaving this house until I am dead.”

            She has “made do” with whatever she could and has improved The Little House in the Country as much as she has been able.

flowers

Now, it’s my turn. The city girl has come home to her roots and I rejoice when I find grubs or red wrigglers in my compost bin! A recent trip to buy a simple piece of hardware turned into a field trip for me, when I started setting potted plants and hanging baskets into the shopping cart. My urban-bred husband shook his head and waited.

outdoor flowers

I spent hours arranging and repotting dahlias and mums near the mailbox and I fretted over which soil to use for the rosemary and pepper.

rural house

I traded in my small country home for an equally small apartment in a thriving metropolis that was later traded for a spacious home in the suburbs and I pursued my career as city editor. Returning to my roots, I have swapped all I held dear for what is most precious to me. With that, came The Little House in the Country.

.

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Majoring in Minor Meltdowns

The easiest hard decision my husband and I have ever made as a couple didn’t arrive after months of discussion or hours of debate. In twenty-five syllables, we made a life-changing choice.

Couyple dolphin

“Why don’t we move in with your mother and help her?”

“Are you serious?”

“Very serious.”

“Let’s do it.”

houses at night

We made our decision late one night, while visiting my mother. The next morning, we discussed it with her when she expressed anxiety at our pending departure.

            The real discussion started after we agreed to make the life-changing move.

Mary with Marie and Bob

The easy part is behind: us packing, sorting, giving away and moving, leaving dear friends, work acquaintances, making job adjustments, opening or moving accounts, deciding which possessions must come into the new home with us and which could be stored.

shoesThe second most difficult phase has taken longer to complete. Ever mindful that I am moving into my mother’s home and not into an empty apartment, I’ve cleaned years of grime and discarded broken items or things she does not use, like the nearly two dozen pairs of shoes that pinch her feet or the shoebox filled with custom orthotics that no longer serve her. We both laughed when I asked her what she wanted to do with several denture molds I found stashed in a dresser. My mother still has her natural teeth and she could not remember if the molds were for her mother or my father. They both passed away within nine days of each other.

Thirty years ago.

laptops

“I’ll never use that,” alternated with, “Put that away for now,” which became, “Do you think you can sell that on the computer?” as she kept company with me and watched me sort decades of her possessions.

basket shoes

Often, I found empty totes with piles of things nearby. Some days, she asked why I was moving certain things and she did not understand my need to wash dishes we had not used or to wipe inside and outside of cupboards.

Some days, our genetic disposition to lead, led us toward stubborn standoffs. We also both possess a need to be right, which suggests compromise often means acquiescence.

As the junior, I submit most often.

door

One area we disagree on is the need to keep her bedroom door closed in order to direct the airflow pattern properly. No amount of explanation has convinced her that her old air handler system wasn’t optimal.

            “I didn’t have any of these problems before you moved in.”

            She worries about the possible increase in her utility bill because we are using extra fans to move the air as well as an auxiliary window unit. She does not understand that the computers we require to maintain our jobs rely on a regulated, cooler temperature.

fan

We all suffered until, after several emergency service calls, we were able to convince her that buying a new unit now would prevent the need for an urgent install once winter arrives.

elder in scooter

“My blood is thin. I need it warm in here,” has been her mantra, but my husband  suggested we take her out into the sunshine on the days it’s not raining. She’s been enjoying her scooter outings that allow her to warm up and has not complained about the cold since we started.

She’s my mother. I’m from the South. I’m also her middle child, so I don’t sass or talk back. It’s difficult for me to argue with her, even when I know I’m right, so I try to avoid arguments and present topics as a matter of fact.

juice

As a result, she looks forward to drinking a glass of fresh juice every day, which is helping her nutritional needs.

tea party

She also showers more often and my coup has been setting the dinner table each night and having her eat at the table.

mug

For more than three years, she has been content to sit in her recliner for all of her meals, even if her meal was a cup of coffee and two cookies. She always insisted, when we were children, that we eat at the kitchen table. I don’t insist, but I gently encourage.

We’ve been living in her house since June. I’ve had a few minor meltdowns during that time.

            When she becomes adamant that I must leave things in place, as she has had them for years, I try to remember that this is her house, even though I also live here and she has said repeatedly, “We’ll make this work, no matter what it takes.” I strive to compromise, but there are times I need her to give as well as take.

            She says she understands the sacrifices we have made, but has also said,

“I don’t care. It’s mine and that’s how I want it.”

yard

To keep my minor meltdowns from causing major problems, I’ve developed a routine that takes me outdoors. The yard can always use some work, so as often as I can,  I go outside and melt away my stress.

Hit the wall, but don’t let it hit back

It’s not uncommon for a HANC to hit an emotional wall at some point. Keeping a tidy house, directing activities, planning nutritious meals and providing fulltime companionship will take its toll. Wall with flowers

Doing all this while maintaining a career and relationships can add to the stress level of even the most well-balanced person, but to attempt the feat while caring for a beloved pet that becomes ill, relocating your entire household and “coming home” after nearly a decade-and-a-half away can prove exhausting.

wall corner pin and tan

If you don’t rest and take care of yourself, your body will give out in any number of ways and you will be forced to take a break. Be mindful of your physical, emotional and mental state unless you want to suffer the consequences of fatigue, colds, headaches or other maladies.

small bricks

  • No move ever goes exactly as planned or expected, even when you have options for contingencies. Unexpected problems will emerge, such as the old air handler that fails to perform during unseasonably hot weather or the elevated utility bill resulting from the faulty appliance. Cars break down, oven doors fall off, pests invade, rain seems never-ending; yet you are the one who must hold things together for everyone else.
  • Expecting the unexpected can help HANCs cope with computers that fail or cell phones that break. Accepting Murphy’s Law makes it easier to cope and respond appropriately when things go wrong. Then the family has a sense of calm cohesiveness.
  • Problems arise when HANCs expect too much from themselves and are less forgiving of their own mistakes than they are of others. With so many responsibilities, it can be difficult to remember to take time for yourself, time to play, relax, to do nothing. Don’t be too stubborn to listen to the advice you give others.
  • Realize that the housekeeping aspect of your new job does not require miraculous transformation of a marginally kept house into a magazine cover shot. Take care of the necessary daily chores and reserve some of the deeper cleaning for another time, after you have settled in fully.
  • Perhaps the most important part of being a HANC is the activities director portion, but this does not mean you must plan every waking moment of each day. Some days, it means making no plans at all, but being open to what the day brings. If the weather changes, be prepared to change your plans accordingly. Sometimes, an activities director needs only to provide simple conversation and gentle reminders about recent events. Too many changes and too much commotion can be overly stimulating and frightening. A good HANC knows where to draw the line between keeping busy and being a busybody.
  • Learn as quickly as possible how much activity the person in your care can handle at a given time and don’t push beyond that limit. A walk outdoors might be all you can handle one day, but the next day, a drive or shopping trip could provide interaction or the chance to meet old friends. Don’t rush and don’t put your desire to fill the needs of being a HANC before his or her need to do whatever is important at that moment.
  • If the person in your care has memory issues, don’t let your personal frustration drive you to impatience. Allow time and encourage memories by urging conversations with friends and relatives. Give hints and recollection prompts and know that the other person is more annoyed than you at the declining memory.

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Can you tell Fran about what we did yesterday?” might be too generic. Try, instead, “Will you tell Fran what you thought about the farmers’ market?”

Don’t quibble over details, but help with dates and time management.

“Remember, we went to see Sally after you had your haircut. Yesterday was the day we went to the museum.”

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The activities you engage in are to help deter boredom and keep the mind of your loved one stimulated, not for your own entertainment. This can be difficult to remember at times. It can be harder to implement when you are also trying to maintain a healthy balance. If you feel you are close to hitting an emotional wall or at your physical limit, take a moment to collect yourself. A few minutes alone in the shower or a short walk outside might be all you need. Put some space between you and whatever is frustrating you. If your loved one is too demanding, make a promise to yourself to take a break as soon the current crisis has passed.  Keep your promise.

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  • By providing a healthy diet for the person in your care, you are also ensuring your own nutritional needs are met. Just be certain your specific dietary needs don’t clash with medical needs. Don’t force anyone to adhere to your menu preferences. Introduce new foods gradually. Make suggestions, not requirements. Don’t preach about snacking, but make healthy choices readily available and be sure to set a good example with how you eat. Keep a water bottle handy, especially when leaving home. Don’t forget to drink water, yourself.
  • Companionship could well be the second most important facet in any HANCs position or life. By growing in communion with the one in your care, you may not add years to a life, but you will certainly add life to those years.

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Knowing your job as a HANC means you understand the obligations, but does not lessen the responsibility to take care of yourself.

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Enjoy the journey and stay off that wall.

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