Ellen's book will strengthen and guide you in your role as caregiver to an elder parent or relative, and help you understand your own physical, emotional, mental & spiritual needs.
We are pleased to announce that Surviving Eldercare: Where Their Needs End and Yours Begin is now available on Amazon Kindle
For this week only, you can purchase the book for only 99 cents. If you find it helpful, please let others know about it by writing a review and telling friends and family.
Below is an excerpt from Surviving Eldercare. You can also watch the video on Amazon’s Ellen Besso Page (bottom right side of the page)
Who Are You?
Women are caregivers
• Do you worry your parent might be lonely or unsafe when you’re not with them?
• Do you feel there must be more that you could be doing?
• Are you tired, stressed, resentful, guilty or physically unwell?
• Do you get frustrated and angry with other family members?
• Do you feel sad, powerless or fearful about your parent’s declining condition?
If any of the above issues resonate with you, you have joined the growing ranks of midlife caregivers. The MidLife Caregiver could be any woman… she’s the next door neighbor, the person in the next office, the woman in the grocery store, or maybe she’s us. We often don’t know the stories of other women’s lives until we stop and talk with them, then we find we share many similarities. I am a life coach, a counselor and a mother and I am one of you. My brother Johnny and I have been responsible for our mother’s well-being for the past ten years, ever since she asked us for help and opted to move to our community from Vancouver Island. During the first five years Johnny’s role was that of self-appointed case manager, looking after many details of our mother’s life, including hiring and supervising in-home care. His stress level increased over time as mom’s Alzheimer’s worsened, she became less safe and her needs more urgent. Sometimes there were phone calls to him late in the night.
Being a caregiver to my parent, who is frail physically and has severe dementia, is a much bigger responsibility than I expected it would be. For the past five years I’ve been the ‘point woman’ who oversees mom’s care. I’ve provided hands-on care including personal hygiene, taken mom on weekly outings and to appointments, hosted occasional overnight visits, bought all her clothes and toiletries and paid her bills. Additionally, I’ve given her consistent emotional support and connection to a world that slowly, year by year, slips from her grasp.
Most adult women are already caregivers of some kind or other – for kids, family, friends or coworkers. Some of us have professional careers in caregiving also (such as nurses, care aides, counselors, teachers, doctors). Although gender roles are somewhat more flexible now, when it comes to caregiving our roles and responsibilities as women are very often still assumed. We don’t feel we have much choice.
By midlife many of us are confronted with an additional caregiving responsibility – one that we may not have anticipated or given a lot of thought to previously. Only thirty-five to forty percent of women interviewed had considered and discussed the possibility of being a caregiver to their parent, according to a Journal of Women & Aging study done by Laditka & Pappas-Rogich.
The challenge of aging parents coincides with perimenopause, menopause and the beginning of new projects and transitions. We may still have adolescent or young adult children at home, or we’re grandparents by now. The ‘sandwich generation’ label that describes women squished between younger and older family members fits many of us.
The US Department of Health Womens’ Services reports that female caregivers make up seventy-three percent of all caregivers. Our average age is around forty-six (I was forty-nine when I began caregiving for my mom). Caregiving seems to be ‘women’s work’ in a way that housework was in previous generations.
Men are socialized to assume fewer caring responsiblities throughout their life than women. Additionally some research suggests that males have a different view of caregiving than women in a couple of ways. The male approach emphasizes delegating responsibility and also recognizes that there are limitations to what one can accomplish. It seems a healthy philosophy to me, and perhaps women could benefit from these ideas.
Unpaid caregiving can take many forms
A daughter who shops for her aging parent, one who lives in another province or state and hires a private local care manager, a son who manages his parent’s finances, a daughter-in-law who visits her parent in their care home and takes her on outings, or an adult child who lives with their parent all constitute caregivers. Long distance caregiving, sometimes called ‘the geographic crunch’ or ‘suitcase caregiving’, is a worrisome job, and it is becoming more common as baby boomers and their parents age and live farther apart.
For two periods of time during the past ten years I’ve lived a forty-minute ferry ride plus a short drive from my mother. We were on opposite sides of the inlet between North Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia, waiting for a bed to become available for her in a care home during each of these periods. It took the better part of a day to visit her and take her on an outing.
As she deteriorated, I felt badly about leaving her at the door of her apartment, and later saying goodbye to her at her care home, although to a lesser extent. Even though my mother had others nearby, I was unsettled and worried about what might happen when I wasn’t there, and about not being able to get to her if she had an accident or heart attack in the night when the ferries weren’t running.
When someone who is dear to us passes away, our relationship with them doesn’t end, it transforms into a new form. We must come to terms with that; that’s the process of grieving. I believe that, as their body, mind and spirit changes into a different form, so does the relationship we have with them. We must surrender the connection that was in order to form a new bond.
We can’t predict how we will feel when the anniversary arrives. It’s just a day after all, we think, but it’s a special one. As the first anniversary of my mothers leaving drew closer over the past couple of weeks, I began to recapture some of the feelings and memories of that time. The first year is the most important, my friend Lee tells me, because we re-experience with our senses the sights, smells and sounds of that time, along with the feelings. It’s important to take some time to talk about the relationship we had with that person, the qualities we remember about them.
The loss of our mother, particularly of the mother-daughter bond, can be a primal experience. It’s about safety in the world. In my case, the feelings I’ve experienced anew have caused my physical body to go out of alignment; my low back tightened, my right neck and shoulder spasmed and hurt. My body was speaking to me loud and clear.
This morning, the actual anniversary of the day Mom passed on in the early morning, the atmosphere in my room felt exactly the same as it did one year ago. During meditation an awareness came to me; our revisiting, on this first anniversary, of the feelings and sensations that took place at the time of death is due, at least in part, to the presence of our loved one around us in a much closer way on this day. Their spirit is with us.
Not everyone would choose to think along these lines, but for those of you who do, I hope this comforts you.
Ellen Besso, Martha Beck certified life coach and trained counsellor, is committed to helping midlife women enrich their lives. She is the mother of an adult daughter and was caregiver for her elderly mother and a close friend who recently passed away. Ellen’s personal goal is to live and work in a spiritual, heart centred way. She is the author of Surviving Eldercare & has numerous articles published on midlife and eldercare.
It’s not always easy to live from our heart centre. It takes more time, in some ways it feels like more work. We have to stop and check in with ourselves more often to see if what we’re thinking and saying is congruent with our spiritual beliefs and our ethics – with the way we want to live in the world and how we want to see the world around us.
Our ethics and values, our beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong reside within us. We all have a philosophy about how we want our world to be like. It may be well-formed or just a few vague ideas.
Many of us see spirituality as ephemeral, separate from our daily life in the physical world. An invisible chasm separates our spiritual concepts and our daily lives and we don’t always connect the dots between our bodies, minds and spirits. We all have ways to reconnect though, to get back to our heart centre – through walks in nature, through our pets, our close relationships, through meditation, prayer.
Whether we call it a spiritual philosophy, or an ethical way of living, many of us now believe that we are all connected, that what each one of us does in our community affects the whole. If we hold strong to this and take our body, our mind and our spirit out into the world each day we can all pull together for the good of the communities we live in.