NOTE: Not stamping related!
Some of you are daughters taking care of your mom. Or maybe your dad or husband or sister. (The tips refer to moms, but substitute as needed.) Or maybe you are thinking about doing so. If so, this post is for you.
As Mother's Day approaches, I have mom on the brain. If you've read my previous blogs, you know that my mom lived with us for 19 years. For the last 5 of those years, she needed serious care taking. After that, she spent a year and a half in a nursing home before she died. I can now look back on those years and thought I'd share a little of what I learned.
1. To the maximum extent possible, let your mom make her own decisions and feel important.
Losing control is scary and often does not bring out the best in people. The more my mom lost control of her life, the more she made ridiculous
It helps to ensure that they make as many decisions as possible. Mom can't blame you when things don't turn out, and folks have the right to decide their own medical care, what they wear, where they live, when they take their pills, etc. -- as much as possible. I disagreed with many of my mom's decisions, but they were hers to make and in the long run, it made my life easier.
My mom, like a lot of frail elderly, felt useless. But she blossomed when I asked her advice about anything -- making meatballs, something about my kid, etc. It made her feel useful and needed. (Hint: she doesn't need to know that you didn't follow all of her advice....).
2. If your mom has frequent medical emergencies, keep an "ER" bag packed.
My mom went to the emergency room over 40 times over a 5 year period, so I became a pro.
Include in the ER bag:
- three copies of a list of her medications, including dosage and frequency and a summary of her medical issues. You don't need a novel -- a paragraph is fine.
- three copies of your mom's basic info (social security number, birth date, address, and name and phone number of her treating physician);
- three copies of any advance directives/living wills;
- three copies of YOUR contact info;
- Keep in mind that most doctors no longer treat their patients when hospitalized, so you will be responsible for the continuity of her care. Give one copy of the above papers to the paramedics after they arrive, one copy to the nurse at the ER, and if your mom is admitted, one copy to the nurse on the floor. If you leave the ER before your mom is transferred to her room, tape a copy to her bed;
- a photocopy of the front and back of her medicare and insurance cards for the hospital billing office;
- a blanket for your mom and a sweater for you (it's ice cold in there);
- a paper cup (so you don't have to wait for a very busy nurse to give her something to drink;
- an extra cell phone cord for your phone; and
- some food for you and your mom.
In addition, on the way out the door, I would grab some of my mom's pill bottles and would TELL the ER doctor or nurses that I was giving my mom her regularly scheduled pills (this is why bringing a plastic cup is useful). ER docs don't order blood pressure, routine pain pills, or meds like that unless needed to cope with the reason for the emergency. For example, my mom had gout and if she didn't take a particular pill every day, it would flare up. I learned the hard way how important it was that she stay on her regular pills.
The docs never objected and often told me that I was smart for bringing them. Just make sure you tell them in advance!
3. Make peace with your sibling issues.
It is not uncommon for one child to be the caretaker and watch siblings scatter to the wind. Your brothers and sisters may refuse to help pay, may not have the money to help out, and/or may rarely visit or call. Expect it. If the opposite happens, rejoice.
It is also not uncommon for the parent to idealize the non-helping kids. It can be a source of tremendous resentment. I kept my mouth shut about my siblings in front of my mom, although there came a time when I had to intervene so that what was left of her money stayed out of my brothers' hands. But most of the time, I let it go. You have enough going on without adding that to the mix.
4. Speaking of money. If you are taking care of your mom's finances, be prepared for someone to question where all the money went.
It can be your mom, your siblings, or the government (if your mom needs Medicaid or other assistance). Eventually, some one is going to want to know where the money went and he or she will be looking at you. There is plenty to spend it on. But, keep good records, particularly if she sells her house or car.
5. Don't feel guilty over sometimes wondering when your mom will die.
Yup. It happens. You aren't a murderer; you are a daughter. A very tired daughter.
When a friend told me she googled her own mother's life expectancy because she couldn't imagine caring for her much longer, I realized that I wasn't the only one who sometimes wondered when my mom would die. It helped to know I wasn't a bad person for thinking like this.
Don't waste your time feeling guilty for these feelings. When my mom died, I was both devastated and relieved. I was relieved that she was no longer so miserable. But a part of me was also relieved that I was no longer consumed with her care.
Now that my mom is gone, parts of my life are much better, but I still miss her so much, much more than I thought I would when I was in the middle of it all. We love our moms, but we are human and complicated.
There will come a time when the care taking ends and all that will have mattered is how you acted, not how you felt. And you will miss those days (well, some of them) and your mom. A lot.