Notes from a Covid-19 Caregiver’s journey…
I felt this big push to get the gazebo set up on the back deck for my father-in-law and so on Sunday a couple of weeks ago I did. As I reflected afterwards on the “why” for this push, I realized how much it bothers me that he sits in his dark hole of a suite (heavy curtains mostly shut day in and day out). The life he has constructed for himself due in part to his dementia, is a life characterized by isolating. He no longer is confident enough to go out for a walk on his own, to pick up the phone on his own, to do anything beyond sitting on his recliner couch watching TV or reading.
After the death of his beloved wife early last year, I managed to keep some of her “ladies in waiting” coming to see him. Sometimes he suffered them patiently but as we discovered who really worked well for him, he found himself really enjoying their company. We got past his ego stuff of “I don’t need anyone, I’m fine”, to him coming to appreciate being waited on hand and foot. Plus his favourites were loving but also quirky characters who could keep up a stream of conversation and get him up and moving, often despite himself. They were tasked with getting him to walk a bit further each day to rebuild his strength after his bout with pneumonia at Christmas. They both appreciated and excelled at these challenges.
Covid-19 has wrecked all that, further narrowing his already limited options. Beyond enjoying his meals, a happy day was one in which he could enjoy his ladies in waiting, read one or more newspapers and watch lots of news channel coverage, with a movie or two on the golden oldies channels. Now the ladies in waiting are gone, the news is all about Covid-19 which if you sit and watch it day after day becomes very dull and repetitive, the newspapers are potential sources of contagion and you can only watch so many movies and still enjoy them. He is more and more reduced to sitting blankly on the couch, dozing a lot. This gazebo on the deck right off the back door to his suite gives him nature and fresh air, all accessible to him within the limits of his mobility. No wonder I felt such a push to get it set up!
This brings me to the 2nd part of my reflection, which is how I am handling stresses like taking care of my father-in-law and getting things done. Covid-19 also means if something needs to get done, you must do it yourself. It is nice to have the time to be able to focus on your own priorities, but at 63 I am not as young and energetic as I used to be. For the first time this weekend I set the gazebo up by myself. This involved a lot of stretching on tippy toes and straining as well as multiple trips up and down the ladder pulling canvas taught across the frames. After a while I had spent my bolt but still had a lot left to do.
For years now my tried and true method has been to refuel with a beer and keep on going. It takes the edge off the increasing physical discomforts and reenergizes me. And so, two beers later, with longer and longer pauses between bursts of activity, and making sure the pork roast I had in the oven was coming along well, I got it done. A couple of muscle relaxants did not quite do the trick and I still needed something liquid to calm everything down and relax for the evening. I had a bit of Irish cream in the decaf coffee my wife brewed for us, but I still had a STRONG hankering for something stronger, to return me to that pleasant place of feeling no pain. But I knew if I had more, I would feel lousy in the morning.
Here is how I got past this conundrum. I have found if I simply do not take action on the compulsion, in a way slide past it without a “no, I am not going to do that”, then somehow I get past the intensity of the pull and as I focus elsewhere, it simply recedes. No battles with myself but simply a gracious failure to act on the compulsion and not long afterwards peace is restored. I end up feeling good, if still somewhat needy. It feels good to take care of my poor body and soul, as this poor body and soul are seemingly always being spent taking care of others. Bit by bit I am finding out how to be my own good parent, my own loving parent, taking care of the young needy part of me that drives my compulsions. Sometimes I speak directly to myself saying things like, “no, you don’t want to do that because…” but when the urgency to find comfort is too strong, this sliding by is working for me.
And so today I am grateful for the gazebo and for the quality of life it will afford my father-in-law. I am also grateful that although my body is sore and my soul depleted, my energy and consciousness are clearer than they would have been if I had further indulged. Now my morning routine calls, a routine of care of others and self-care. It is a good, life-giving routine and despite everything I am grateful for the life I have been given.
originally written May 5, 2020