This post was written by Dawne Cressman on Mayne Island.
I’m a baby boomer, in my early sixties and presently caring for my 86 year-old mother. My generation wasn’t raised with the expectation that we would look after our parents – in fact, mom always said that she didn‘t want to live with her children. My mother first came to live with me after finding it difficult to adjust to an assisted living facility. During this period, she was mobile with a walker and able to take care of most things by herself. She flourished in the family atmosphere and spent her time producing beautiful watercolour paintings, and regained her strength.
Caring for elderly parents does not come with a manual: it’s a trial and error process. Some things work and some don’t. After returning to her hometown, mom had a fall and went to a transition centre where she was placed in a wheelchair, thus loosing her independence. Seeing her sink into depression, I decided to bring her to my home on the coast. I was shocked to see how far she had regressed. She now needs fulltime nursing care, including help to the toilet, dressing, transfers in and out of bed and chairs. She can use her walker with assistance—which we encourage as much as possible—but she tires easily and sleeps a lot. Perhaps a stroke caused the sudden decline, we don’t know.
My life has changed completely. The first weeks were busy and intense as we established house routines and set up some external home-care services. Occasionally I think that I’ve made a mistake—for her and myself, that I can’t do this. But I’m learning day by day, some better than others. My house is now equipped with walkers, wheelchairs, toilet commodes, bath seats, bedpans, and stacks of incontinence pads. I do laundry daily. I make sure mom takes her medication but often can’t remember whether I’ve taken my own. Some days I feel housebound as I can’t get out for my customary walks in the fresh air. Getting to the island store requires extra effort and planning and any thoughts of travelling–which I love to do–have been put on hold indefinitely.
How do I cope with all of this? Through a meditative practice I started a few months ago, I feel like I’m now travelling inwardly. Support of friends helps immensely. With a conscious commitment to serve my mom I’m beginning to see her as my teacher in many ways. She requires more effort physically, her mind is much lighter, almost childlike, and I enjoy being with her more than ever. She is helping me see the cycle of life, how birth and death are linked. I feel thankful to her.