The National Catholic Review

According to a recent newsletter of the Administration on Aging, I have something in common with 12 million Americans. I’m a caregiver. The great majority of us are women (75 percent, the A.O.A. reports). Half of us also work outside the home. This caregiving business is really booming. As the aging population lives longer and longer, there’s money in gerontology. (I know people who have left successful business careers in their 40’s to pursue studies in what supposedly is the wave of the future.) As reported in a New York Times article a few months back, Elder care is to the 21st century what child care has been for the last few decades.

In many cases today, all across the country, the role of caregiver has fallen to a family memberoften an adult child. Indeed, Caring for Your Parents was the subject of a recent television program on UPN.

Both the situation of caregiving and the model of caregiver take a variety of forms. For many families, taking care of the elderly creates great financial and other burdens. I explored several possibilities for my own mother’s care before lucking out with referrals from parish outreach programs.

My mother is 91 l/2 years of age. Widowed in her 50’s, she has always been the independent sort. After closing out my father’s business affairs (he was an attorney), she eventually went to work in Manhattan and didn’t stop until she was in her 70’s. She fully enjoyed retirement, especially summers at Long Island’s east end, where she had a small summer home. She drove a car (forever food shopping!) until age 83. Then a subtle stroke changed everything. Since then, we’ve watched the declinestep by step, year by year. Never a large woman, she is particularly petite now: roughly 69 pounds dripping wet. But it is the heaviest 69 pounds I’ve ever handled. Her mental change, too, poses its own challenge.

For the past few years, my sister and I have alternated care: sister from Monday to Thursday (when I’m working) and I from Friday to Sunday, each at her own home. Presently, however, and for the indefinite future, mother is staying at my home. a caring, competent woman takes care of Mother by day. She has a key to the house. I take Mother to the bathroom early in the morning, lay out her clothing, set a menu for breakfast, lunch, etc., write all sorts of notes to my alter ego, then leave for work. When I’m home evenings, I take over. Plus the three full days. And I have found it helps when there’s some consistencyritual, if you willin attending to the various needs. We even say our night prayers together. (she remembers these, of course; one of her current favorites is My Lord and my God, I love you above all things. Keep everybody well; protect them.)

That helps me to keep going. Plus, I add my own silent prayers for the ability to continue in strength and good health (there is the house to take care of as well). My mother and I have been good friends for a lot of years. We’ve traveled far and wide and enjoyed special vacations together. Our theme has become together wherever we go (from the Broadway musical Gypsy). But I miss that there will be no more vacations together. No more serious conversation.

Although life is changedfor both of usthere is reason to be grateful. Possessed of a calm spirit, my mother still knows each and every family member by name. And we still laugh.

I will always treasure a special video we have of my mother’s life. In preparation for her 90th birthday (which we celebrated with family at home), we had combed through albums and albums of photographs, finally arranging the assortment by theme as much as chronologymy sister actually did the brunt of thisand then we selected various pieces of music to accompany the various scenes. All was brought to a company that put it together in magical form. I would recommend that everyone put their history in digital form; today’s electronic possibilities are even better than two years ago!

My mother may dwell in another world now, but we’re still connected in this one, and always will be.

Patricia A. Kossmann

Patricia A. Kossmann is literary editor of America.

Comments

Shirley Vogler Meister | 1/21/2007 - 6:28pm
With gratitude, I applaud America for Of Many Things by Patricia A. Kossmann, the editorial on “Elder Abuse,” “Elderhood for the World” by Thomas E. Clarke, S.J., and “On Dying Well,” by Myles N. Sheehan, S.J., in the July 29 issue. I could write glowingly about each one, but succinctly say instead how refreshing it is to see America cover subjects that many in the Catholic press avoid.

My own advocacy about elder care arose when my mother was physically abused in an Illinois nursing home and my mother-in-law suffered similar mistreatment and neglect in an Indiana nursing home. (My sister and I resorted to nursing homes only after years of on-hands caregiving. Our mothers needed professional help. So, in good faith, we finally chose care centers; but we only exchanged one set of problems for another. Our mothers are now at peace with God.)

Around the same time that I discovered how harsh care can be in secular (for-profit) care centers, I also began volunteering at St. Augustine Home for the Aged, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Indianapolis. What a joy to be there! The environment is consistently clean and serene, and one immediately feels the presence of Christ. If what they are doing could be replicated by all nursing homes, elder advocacy would fall by the wayside, because loved ones would enjoy proper care, safety and dignity. Residents at St. Augustine have happy elderhood, and they die well in the care of those who love them.

Michael Glazier | 1/21/2007 - 6:16pm
Patricia Kossmann’s Of Many Things (7/29) is a truly beautiful, moving and memorable tribute to and love for a wonderful mother. It is an article that will help many with aging parents. I’ll keep it. Thanks and kindest wishes.

Shirley Vogler Meister | 1/21/2007 - 6:28pm
With gratitude, I applaud America for Of Many Things by Patricia A. Kossmann, the editorial on “Elder Abuse,” “Elderhood for the World” by Thomas E. Clarke, S.J., and “On Dying Well,” by Myles N. Sheehan, S.J., in the July 29 issue. I could write glowingly about each one, but succinctly say instead how refreshing it is to see America cover subjects that many in the Catholic press avoid.

My own advocacy about elder care arose when my mother was physically abused in an Illinois nursing home and my mother-in-law suffered similar mistreatment and neglect in an Indiana nursing home. (My sister and I resorted to nursing homes only after years of on-hands caregiving. Our mothers needed professional help. So, in good faith, we finally chose care centers; but we only exchanged one set of problems for another. Our mothers are now at peace with God.)

Around the same time that I discovered how harsh care can be in secular (for-profit) care centers, I also began volunteering at St. Augustine Home for the Aged, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Indianapolis. What a joy to be there! The environment is consistently clean and serene, and one immediately feels the presence of Christ. If what they are doing could be replicated by all nursing homes, elder advocacy would fall by the wayside, because loved ones would enjoy proper care, safety and dignity. Residents at St. Augustine have happy elderhood, and they die well in the care of those who love them.

Michael Glazier | 1/21/2007 - 6:16pm
Patricia Kossmann’s Of Many Things (7/29) is a truly beautiful, moving and memorable tribute to and love for a wonderful mother. It is an article that will help many with aging parents. I’ll keep it. Thanks and kindest wishes.

Recently in Of Many Things