Serving as caregiver can be a rewarding experience

Q: I owe one to COVID-19. Let me explain.

Shortly after the pandemic started making inroads into our daily routines, the IT guys from my office rewired one of the rooms in my house so that I could connect to all of our networks and work from home. I did not need to bother coming into the office. In fact, our office was closed.

This meant that I was at home much more than I would normally have been.

At the same time, and with the same virus in mind, the long-term care facility to which we had applied for my grandmother slammed its doors shut. Her application for admission was put on hold.

Grandma was living on her own but she was not doing a very good job of it. She needed, and needs, support. Given that she could not get admitted to a facility, that we have extra rooms in our house, that I am home more than I have ever been and that I could be available to help my grandma, and that COVID-19 was not showing any signs of going away, the only option for us was to invite my grandmother to live at our place, for at least a spell.

Don’t let me kid you. I was somewhat less than excited with the prospect of Grandma moving in.

I agreed to it only because at the time we did not seem to have any other options. But I had read a number of articles on care giving, and it seemed that she was likely to bring unforeseen stress as we all learned to live together. I was preparing myself for a nightmare.

The great news is that I was wrong. This whole thing, with Grandma living with us, has turned into a wonderful and rewarding time in our lives. The big thing for me is the relationship that Grandma and I have built over these past few months. First thing in the morning, she and I go for a walk together. At her speed the walk is at best only a couple of blocks, if that, and lately I have taken to pushing her in a wheelchair for our morning stroll. But it is great, and we talk and laugh and have a time of it long before anyone else in the house is awake.

Coffee, newspaper, getting those out the door who have to leave, and Grandma is right in there with us, chugging her cup of coffee before retiring for a morning nap while I am focused on my work computer.

Throughout all of this, Grandma and I have learned to love and appreciate each other.

But this is coming to an end. Grandma’s health is waning, her short-term memory is weak and she is starting to need more and more help with personal care. She will soon leave us for that long-term facility, the one that is open now that the pandemic is backing off a bit.

We know that Grandma will die soon. That is nature’s commitment to all of us. But because of COVID-19, and the opportunity we have had to be together with Grandma, she will die only to leave us a legacy of memories that we will forever cherish.

I have learned that caregiving can be rewarding. I wanted to share that with your readers just in case some of them are wondering about doing the same for their loved ones. Please tell them how great it can be.

A: All that I can say in response to your letter is, “amen.” I think it is wonderful that you and your Grandma have had such a great experience with each other. But caregiving is not for everyone.

Caregivers need to be reasonably healthy themselves, they need to have relationships with those in need of help that are potentially positive and reinforcing for everyone, they need to know how to look after themselves, and they need to be willing to learn.

Medicine these days is complex. To help others through their medical charts the caregivers have to be willing to learn what they can from those with whom they are working. Caregiving, when it works, can be rewarding and wonderful for everyone.

It is not quite so pleasant when it does not work.

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