Medications lined up on the counter, canes, wheelchairs, hospital beds, portable potty chairs…at some point during the caregiving process your house stops looking like your home. It’s disconcerting in many levels: your loved one isn’t getting better, and it not only feels like you’re losing them, and on top of that, you’re losing a part of yourself as your house morphs into something unrecognizeable.
On top of that, your schedule is just plain wacky. Maybe you’re dealing with sundowning (when your elder loses their sense of night and sleep and actually gets more agitated and awake), or maybe you have a parade of home health aides or hospice personnel traipsing in and out all hours of the day and night. You appreciate the help, but it also means you have to stay dressed and be “on,” even when you feel like falling apart.
Then there are the endless doctor appointments, or maybe your loved one is in and out of the hospital or rehab. You barely get a decent routine established and bam, a month in the hospital and you have to start all over.
I experienced all of the above and I admit, I wasn’t Miss Keep-a-Perfect-House to begin with.
My mother was such a control and clean freak that it turned me off when I was a kid. Years later I figured out it was a personality difference: the structure she created made her feel safe–and it made me feel smothered. As an adult I had finally learned how to live in my own harmony–but then caregiving my mom with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s came into my life–along with raising three kids and a marriage–and trust me, order flew out the window.
Yeah, I used to beat myself up all the time about the sink full of dishes or the laundry not put away–oh and let’s not forget the dog hairs that clung to bottom of the toilet base (I hate that place!), or the piles and piles and piles of paperwork on my desk….
But I tapped into a different way of thinking that made me feel a whole lot better about myself.
If you brought me into a horribly messy room and told me to clean it up, I’d feel overwhelmed, avoid doing it, believe it would take me weeks to make a dent, or simply rebel.
But…if you brought me into that same horribly messy room and asked me if I could make it beautiful, my Geiger counter would go off the chart.
I would think along the lines of color, style, symmetrical and asymetrical lines.
I would think about what should go on the walls, and what should be put away.
I would immediately recognize art pieces or family moments in the room that could and should be highlighted.
I would be excited and couldn’t wait to get started.
So I used that principle to get excited about aspects of caregiving.
After we called hospice, which of course was extremely hard and scary, and after I accepted that fact that my mother’s time on earth was limited, I began to look at her room and how I wanted it to “feel” during the last months of her life.
First, I decluttered. My mother liked more “things” than I did–knick-knacks–everything from garage sale goodies to valuable antiques and a gazillion family pictures crammed into her tiny apartment we built onto our house for her. I began to get them out of the way. I knew that we were literally fitting about 4-5 new people into our lives each week: a nurse, a home health aid for baths, a chaplin, and family and friends who would come by to visit. We needed space, and I needed to think straight.
Next, I put up a lace curtain over her bedroom window. She already had blinds, but I envisioned her lying peacefully under the morning sun and the lace curtain moving gently on a breeze. Poetic sounding and maybe even a bit sappy, but I needed this vision of beauty, especially at a time like this.
I put up one of those easy stick flower borders in her bedroom and brought in my favorite lap blanket and a few books of art and poetry (Mother’s Bible was already there, and a picture of her mother she had grown attached to) my journal, and a small vase of wildflowers so that when I was sitting with her, I had a bit of my creature comforts nearby.
Things were feeling better. I had created my own sense of order (the papers were still piled on my desk, I assure you), but I had focused on beauty, and for me, that brings joy and peace and was at a time when I desparately needed a little bit of both.
Did my mother notice? I’m not sure, but this was for me. This was so I could sit and hum a familiar song, swab her mouth with Vaseline and wipe her face and arms with a cool cloth. This was so I could do all the things I needed to do.
My mother was pretty out of it those last few weeks (the end of Alzheimer’s had caused my mother to forget how to eat and eventually swallow). But I noticed that the more I made this a haven for me, I didn’t dread sitting next to her. I could sit with a cup of tea, my blanket, my journal, and read her a Psalm, look out the window with the lace curtain, and be present in this very important time in our lives.
What motivates you? What helps you think clearly and move easily?
Do your surroundings resemble a hospital ward or a home?
What makes you feel safe?
What’s your idea of order–or beauty? It may be very different from mine, but I hope you find yours.