The long goodbye - When your job as a caregiver is ending
All good things must come to an end
This is, by far, the most difficult article I've ever written - you see, my 95 year old Mom, Gertie, is coming to the end of the road, and I'm right here by her side, where i have been as her caregiver for the past 5 years. I'm lucky to have the support of wonderful friends to help both Mom and me through this very tough time. But, watching the downhill slope of a previously vital woman is both emotionally and physically exhausting. I've learned to just give in sometimes and start my own mourning process.
In this Squidoo article, I'll try to impart the information that i've learned just the past few weeks, and will discuss some of the tough decisions i've had to make. I hope it will help other caregivers who one day will say "been there, done that."
Update: My adorable mom passed away Feb 15th at 7:11 am. She is greatly missed and always will be. But, she lived a full and wonderful life and, for that, we're all grateful. I, however, am now on a quest to figure out what my next gig in life will be.
Update May 2013: It's been 15 months now since Mom's been gone, and there is not a day that goes by that she isn't right here in my heart with me. I'm so incredibly lucky to have called this wonderful woman my Mom. And, in her memory, I've started a new website. It's in development now, but it contains a lot of Good Gifts For Senior Citizens.Drop me a line on the website and let me know you visited!
My newest Kindle book - Senior Citizen Caregiving 101: Things I wish I had known.
I learned caregiving by the seat of my pants, but you don't have to. Check out my Kindle ebook - I'll bet it's got at least one thing you didn't know.
Books on the process of death and dying
I used to be afraid of death, not my own mind you (I'm not going to die...), but, rather, my Mom's death. We've lived alone in my rather large house for a lot of years before friends came to stay. There is really no more selfless act than to drop one's life to come help out a friend and I'm always in awe of the devotion of my closest friends. Sharyn, for instance, has been living with me for the past few months as we ease Mom towards the end. John, my incredible boyfriend, has been here almost from the start of my csregiving career. But, I digress...
I wanted to become acquainted with the process of death itself so I wasn't scared of it any longer and that's exactly what I did. Here's what I found out - read When death looms - the signs and symptoms of the last moments on earth. I've also read a few of the below books as way of educating myself. I suggest you do also.
Lesson #1: Trust your instincts
As the caregiver for my elderly Mom, I'm the one closest to her. As she looses the ability to talk or communicate ideas to others, I can generally get within the ballpark of understanding what she needs or wants. I can also tell when she's in pain and needs medication administered, or when she's fine and we can skip a dose of medication.
I sort of figured out my own routine with giving comfort meds before even Hospice confirmed that what I'd chose to do was the right path. We moved Mom from her regular medications which sustained life, such as her heart pill and blood pressure pill, over to comfort medications, such as Morphine which is used primarily to help breathing in the elderly. It also, of course, has the side effect of knocking her out. Since I really didn't want to have her sleeping any more than necessary, I decided to give the morphine just when she needed it instead of on an hourly basis. I called Hospice to confirm this new routine and they were behind me 100%.
As a caregiver, learn to trust your instincts - you might be wrong a few times but you might find that you're right a whole lot more. If necessary, bounce ideas off friends and family who might have another take on the situation.
Lesson #2: The first time you think your elderly loved one is going to die is probably not the last time
I'm thinking dear Gertie is a cat - I've had 4 heartfelt times where I thought that was it. I've leaned in and told her a myriad of times what a great mother she is, how lucky I am to have had the parents I did, and how I will never forget her kindness. I've shed a lot of tears (and mascara...) through each of these times.
So, the first time you think the end is near....eh, maybe not. That's not saying the end doesn't happen quickly to some but others might hang in there a bit longer than you think.
Here's an article I wrote, When death looms; the signs and symptoms of the last moments on earth. It's a good read to sort of give you an idea and timeline of what to expect.
Lesson #3: You might have to tell your loved one that it's ok to go
Frequently, the dying won't let go to life if they're not sure that everyone will be fine. It's obviously a very sad time and very difficult to utter the words "Go ahead and go. I'll be fine." But, by saying that out loud, you'll reassure your loved one that their job is done.
And, this is very important - Hearing is the last sense to go. Do not say anything in the presence of your dying elderly loved one that you wouldn't say right to their face. Even hushed tones can be fully understood.
Supporting a loved one who is dying
It's so very difficult to watch a very beloved Mother ease towards the end. But, it must be done. And, with the help of some good books, I know how to do it.
Lesson #4: Do not underestimate the importance of hospice
If I had known more about hospice a few years ago, I would have immediately enrolled Mom in the program. Hospice has pretty tight guidelines for qualifying but most elderly people would probably get hospice support just because of their advanced age.
Hospice has been instrumental in providing me with the support Mom and I need when we need it. We've had a nurse to the house every day this week. I've learned so much about being a caregiver from their guidance.
To read more about my experience with hospice, read Choosing Hospice - is it the right choice?
Lesson #5: Take some time to grieve after your caregiving job is over
I've been considering my next move after caregiving for my Mom - I quit my day job (Data Manager for a Pharmaceutical company) 4 years ago to stay home with my Mom so I've been out of the work force for quite a while. So, my next move, literally, is to rent a house in Key West for 2 months to recover. I'm going to take 3 of my dogs, my very significant boyfriend will fly down every other weekend, and my door will be open for friends.
Key West has always felt like home to me - ever since Mom, Dad and the family used to go there once a year for a fishing trip. So, going to Key West even for vacation just feels like going home again. That's why I've chosen Key West as my recovery destination. I plan on taking long walks, swimming in the pool, and generally working on getting myself back into shape.
I think it's very important to take time for yourself after your care giving job has ended. Whether you decide to head out like I am or just to take day trips, go do it.
I love to read the comments left to me by others, particularly those care givers out there. Please leave me comments. Thanks.