By Tammie Allegro
Caregiver? I had never really embraced this term until my mother’s terminal illness thrust me into the role. I guess we all need to give ourselves a title that somehow explains what we do, but “caregiver” never seemed to cover it completely.
For starters, a caregiver is definitely the nurse. The only difference is that my “patient” couldn’t fire me and tell me my services were no longer needed.
The caregiver also is the chef. In the beginning, it was just meals that my mother could keep down, but the challenges changed over time. It wasn’t easy planning a menu of items that didn’t require too much chewing!
And, let’s not forget the maid. My mother was fighting for her life; she wasn’t exactly worried about cleaning up her mess or trying to be tidy.
Being the entertainment coordinator was my ultimate favorite task. Making sure that the television always had shows going that kept her happy was not an easy task; my mother is a channel flipper. Come to think of it, my mom would have loved TiVo, but it might have taken my job away from me.
Taxi driver was interesting. I actually purchased a van at one time so I could easily put her wheelchair into my car. Anywhere she wanted to go, I was going to take her — even if it was KFC at 10 p.m. or Target first thing in the morning.
Being a personal shopper wasn’t too bad. I quickly learned what size my mother was, the colors she preferred and the types of clothes that made my job easier: elastic pants, shirts without buttons and shoes with Velcro.
Being the personal valet goes hand in hand with personal shopper. Getting dressed can be a huge challenge for people who have issues with balance and coordination. Sometimes getting dressed was all there was for my mother to look forward to. There wasn’t always somewhere to go, but there was always something to wear.
Hair dresser and makeup artist were special times. I loved brushing my mom’s hair. Over time, her hair got shorter and shorter for convenience sake, but I still brushed it. Those were those quiet moments we got to share. Something about it was so nurturing and therapeutic for me.
As a child, my mother did all of these things for me when I couldn’t do them for myself. When our roles in life changed and I was the one doing them for her, I didn’t always know how blessed I was. I had no idea then how remarkable those moments were. My mom wasn’t the type to easily ask for help. For her to trust me enough to say she needed me … that was priceless.
Come to think of it, maybe I am wrong. Maybe caregiver is the right title after all. It takes a lot of tender loving care to fulfill the duties listed above. Next to motherhood, that was the most challenging and most rewarding job of my life.
What have you learned as a caregiver or care receiver that you could share to help someone who is just starting on their journey? What do you wish you had known from the start?