Saturday, June 7, 2008

Springs of Compassion

One of my favorite blogs, MY PERSONAL LENS, has a quote today by George Washington Carver, reminding me to be compassionate with my frail, elderly and often cantankerous old mother because someday I will be frail, old, and cantankerous myself.

I am a caretaker whose springs of compassion threaten to run dry. Mom is 99, and will have lived with us for 9 years come August. A friend e-mailed me a "thought for the day" a few weeks ago that I did not take as intended. It advised a woman to live in such a way that, when she gets out of bed every day, the devil says, "Oh, hell! She's awake." I immediately thought, "That's just the way I feel when I see the light on under Mom's door in the morning."

These days she's a combination of fogginess and demandingness.

"I need you to call Debbie (her nurse-practitioner) and ask her why I have to take all these pills." (She's been taking these pills for the last 30 years. She forgets how angrily she rejected Debbie's suggestion that she could get along without her daily valium and nightly sleeping pill.)

"I need you to take me to get my hair washed today."

I know Mom is bored, lonely, and depressed. Macular degeneration has robbed her of the ability to read or even watch television. She listens to, rather than watches, her two favorite televangelists. She used to receive books-on- tape from the library, but has lost interest in those as well. This one's voice is too high. That one's voice is too low. This book is boring. That book has too many swear words. She says she "doesn't have time to sit around and listen to stories." I suspect that she can no longer follow a complicated story line.

Conversation can be a challenge. "What was that terrible noise at two in the morning?" she asked recently.

"I don't know. We didn't hear anything."

"You didn't? That noise lifted me right up out of my bed! I opened the door but you were nowhere to be seen. It was the same noise I heard two or three years ago in the middle of the night. What do you think it was?"

A helpful book** I found at the library yesterday suggested a way to enjoy better conversations. The authors state that folks nearing the end of their lives engage in a process called "life review". They suggest setting aside 30 minutes as often as you can for just listening to your parent talk about his or her life. They even present a list of questions you can ask, such as "What were you like as a child?" or "Where did you live as a young adult?"

We caretakers are told that we need to take care of ourselves. One suggestion is to join a support group. I am a homebody. Once I'm home, I want to stay home. The mere thought of driving across town just to talk makes me tired. That's why blogging has become so important. I feel as if I already have a virtual support group. The comments of on-line friends are like a cool drink of water.

**THE END-OF-LIFE HANDBOOK: A Compassionate Guide to Connecting with and Caring for a Dying Loved One by David B. Feldman, PhD, and S. Andrew Lasher, Jr., MD.


  1. Hi,

    I am glad you enjoy my blog, I enjoy yours as well. You are right, you have created your own support group through your blog and you don't have to leave your home.

    Thank you for posting the name of that book. I am going to look into it. We are dealing with both sets of parents well into their 80's. Luckily they are all well enough to be in their own homes and are independent, but we know that when things change, they will change quickly.

    I will look forward to hearing how the conversations go with your mom.

  2. Unfortunately, patients are not being told that macular degeneration can be very responsive to specific nutritional supplementation. If the eye doctors do suggest vitamins, it usually is an eye formula based on the first AREDS study, which is woefully inadequate in other essential nutrients.

    Dr. Marc Grossman, one of the Country's leading holistic eye doctors, is offering a series of free teleconferences about nutrition and vision. The next one is on macular degeneration and nutrition on June 19th at 8:00 pm.

    For more information, go to and click on "Free Teleconferences".

  3. Simpia, The book you mentioned focuses on caring for G-Dott, which you are already doing well. How about searching out some books on "Caring for the Caregiver?" If you do a search on Amazon using the topic "Caregiver" several options will appear, such as "The Caregivers Survival Handbook: How to Care for Your Aging Parent without Losing Yourself."
    Love you! Charley Horse

  4. The book sounds good and probably would benefit a lot of caretakers. I have been in the caretaker role too and it can be frustrating. I am sure doing it for 9 years and counting can be tough but at least you found your support group on the net.

  5. I will remember that book and pick it up the next time I go out. Good advice about asking about things when she was younger. I wonder if it would help my mom.... hehe j/k mom! .... kinda!