Oliver: Caregiving proves to be challenging labor of love

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

The last few months of my mother’s life were the hardest.

Often I would find myself crying tears of frustration, sadness and desperation. I wanted so much to make her comfortable, to make her happy, to figure out how to keep her at home.

Yet, she was becoming increasingly harder to deal with, her dementia causing her to live in an unkind, unforgiving world in her own head.

She would refuse to get out of bed in the morning, kicking or pushing my hand away as I tried gently to get her to come for her breakfast.

“Leave me alone. Why can’t you leave me alone?” she would whine at me.

After getting her to breakfast, the next confrontation would be when it was time to get dressed.

She had a neurological eye condition that made it hard for her to keep her eyelids open, so she often would complain about not being able to see. The solution, I kid you not, was to sing. This seemed to help her keep her eyes open. So I came up with a silly melody to sing to her. If she was in a good mood, she’d sing with me. When she was surly, well, it took more cajoling. Somehow we’d get through it.

And so the day went. Negotiations at lunch over the number of grapes she would eat. Repeated requests to not walk around without her walker. To not carry her stuffed bear around. To stop talking to the invisible “people” who upset her so.

Bedtime presented its own challenges, from getting her into her pajamas to staying in bed. There always was “someone” coming to visit at 1 a.m. Or she needed to go to her “house” down the street. Or there was an airplane parked in her room, or so she insisted.

I’ve never slept as lightly as I did then. She would need help in the bathroom about 3 a.m. If I missed her rustling around, I risked having her wind up on the floor when she misjudged the location of the toilet.

When my mother first came to live with me, I thought there were things I would never be able to handle, particularly with a grown woman. Yet, as many caregivers have discovered, you do what you have to do for your loved one. It’s that simple.

However, when someone tells you that caregiving is a tough job, believe it. For some, the physical nature of it can be taxing. For others, the mental and emotional strain can be nearly unbearable.

So, in honor of National Caregivers Month, here are a few tips, courtesy of the Caregiver Action Network, for all my fellow caregivers:

• Seek support from other caregivers.

• Take care of your own health.

• Accept help and suggest specific things others can do to help you.

• Learn how to effectively communicate with doctors.

• Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.

• Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.

• Take respite breaks often.

• Organize medical information so it’s up-to-date and easy to find.

• Make sure legal documents are in order.

• Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the hardest jobs there is.

If you know a caregiver, let them know they are appreciated. Better yet, help them. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of hours off duty to recharge.

My mother died in April, so my caregiving duties now are not as intense. I miss her, even if I don’t miss all the struggles her dementia posed.

But I would do it again. And I will, only this time with my husband.

Of course, this time I’ll be a little better prepared.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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