As my mother continues to settle into her Memory Care facility, I endeavor on a regular basis to be present to her and my dad from miles away. I often find myself thinking back to the early days of what has felt like an ongoing “crisis” and wondering how we have gotten to this place and how we’ll move forward. A large part of me wishes that I could have discovered some secret manual on how to cope with the many changes in our lives so that we could ease this time for our parents.
There are so many big things we caregivers cannot control. These issues cause fear, anxiety, and often anger and division. I don’t mean to discount these “big things”. But sometimes, the way to “eat the elephant” is by taking one bite at a time. So, this month, I wanted to share a few tips that have helped our caregiving family stay a bit saner.
Taming the Digital Beast
When Mom was admitted to Memory Care, one of my most difficult projects was taking stewardship of her digital life. Daddy’s still rocking a flip phone and he retired from anything digital when he formally stopped working. The one exception to this rule is his daily time with a money management program that he uses for budgeting and tracking purposes on an old personal computer that is disconnected from the Internet. So, figuring out all of Mom’s online accounts and closing many of them was up to me. I wish I’d kept track of the many hours I spent trying to track down variations on a few simple passwords she uses. The most challenging thing of all is that I couldn’t find her email password—and email is the receptacle of all of those “lost my password” tools. I finally discovered it scrawled on a middle page of an old spiral notebook. When I logged in, her email account was clogged with not only my “reset my password” messages, but also every piece of spam known to mankind. Now, six months later, I think I have a grasp on this daily duty. But I strongly recommend setting up a password vault such as Lastpass.com and setting an emergency system for digital accounts.
Keeping in Touch
I’m the eldest of five siblings and we all aid with my mother’s care. So, keeping in touch from our various homes around the country has been important. We use a few basic tools for communication. For day to day updates, we have a group text that allows us to share photos of Mom and quick news. For more significant updates and decisions, we’ve found that emailing is best so that we can easily access and keep track of our conversations and information. For a few of the more challenging discussions in the last few months, one of my siblings has set up a conference call line that we dial into at an appointed time. Keeping in touch so that everyone understands Mom’s care challenges has been critical to help us feel that we are functioning as a team.
Handling the Questions
One of my greatest challenges as a caregiver has been trying to figure out how to handle the many “How’s your Mom doing?” questions I receive each day. Our friends care about us, so naturally they will inquire about this important aspect of our lives. With a few close friends, I share more details of our daily journey. But in general, I’ve discovered that a great response is to offer a very quick general update and to request prayers and well wishes for Mom and our family. I do this with everyone who asks, including friends who do not actively practice a faith. I’ve been amazed by the universal generosity and compassion of people. Not only are they kind in the moment of my request, but they often follow up weeks later to check in.
To be honest, requesting prayer support is probably the most important of my three tips. We caregivers are often so busy nurturing those we love that we forget about our own need for support. Be brave, but also be honest with those around you about your struggles and concerns, but also the glimmers of hope and the witness of courage your loved one offers you on a daily basis. This part of life’s journey is filled with unexpected moments of grace. Don’t be afraid to share them and to ask for help when you need it.