The Roles We Play




       I started to write this post about more comprehensive training and higher standards for certification in this field. I stopped. Then I started writing about the need to constantly evolve and adapt as a caregiver. I stopped again. Both are topics I want to explore and on which I have many thoughts, but not this week. This week, I want to talk about the roles we play.     

         What defines us? I’m a caregiver. I’m also a writer, a starving artist, a scatterbrained and mildly neurotic advocate. I’m a sister and a daughter, a niece and a friend.

          I’m a caregiver but I’m also a granddaughter, two roles that do not go together as well as you might think. She has been a source of unconditional love for my entire life. How many people are blessed with that? No matter how lost, hurt, angry or sick I was, she was there with me.  She knows me better than anyone else in the world. She told me that I was beautiful; that life was beautiful during a period of my life when all I saw seemed so ugly. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows when we were living together. I know that. It was a very co-dependent relationship and there was no shortage of enabling. Still, I have never doubted for one second that she loves me and wants the best out of life for me. She has been in my corner from day one. She holds all of my fears and I carry all of her stories.

       I miss my grams. It’s hard to explain…it’s sort of like mourning a person while she’s still alive. I used to think that the families that would visit regularly in the facility were cold and removed. Working in private care and experiencing the impact of my own grandmother’s aging process has changed my point of view. It’s impossible to detach from a lifetime of memories and it’s close to impossible to step out of the role you’ve been in your entire life, be it daughter, granddaughter, son, or brother. It’s like simultaneously grieving the loss of the person you’ve known all your life and getting to know the person she’s become.

       Agitation, depression, slight paranoia, loss of appetite. Stubbornness. Desire to isolate.  The patterns are the same. Everybody loves her. Everybody wants her to live with them and the patterns are exactly the same as those who were in my care at the facility. No one said growing old is for the faint of heart.

     The caregiver in me wants to fix it. She’s physically in good shape and a daily consistent routine that includes activities with others would do wonders for her spirits. Or a trip to NJ to see her great grand kids. Or here to NC. I call her twice a week, fully intending to convince her of this and twice a week I fail. I crumble. I can’t change her mind, I can’t redirect well or set boundaries or negotiate effectively. The skills that have been so helpful in caring for my clients and residents are about as useful in this situation as calculus.

       Finally, I give up and listen as she curses the day she ever moved to be close to us when we were kids and I try not to take it personally. I listen as she lists her friends who have died. Sometimes I can redirect the conversation to her childhood or stories from when my dad and uncles were kids. I listen. I tell her I love her and just listen.

       She feels better after our conversations, wherever they may lead. I can hear it in her voice. I always feel keenly aware of my powerlessness afterward, but I try to keep my voice upbeat as I promise to call again in a day or two. It’s such a small thing, a phone call, a listening ear, but for now it’s the best that I can do.

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