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The Privilege of Caregiving

September 28, 2017

My Story

By: Sarah McCarren, RN, MSN, CPNP

Today I would like to address the joys and privilege of helping someone through a life-challenge. This is my story.

Two weeks after a tearful call from my fifty-four-year-old mother-in-law, she and my father-in-law moved into our Philadelphia home. Marianne decided to take her battle with lung cancer head-on. I observed as her husband, sister, four children with spouses, and grandchildren each contributed to her last two years of life. We had no idea how to do this. Ultimately, this wise woman guided each of us to do what we could to give her comfort, love, and support at the end of her life. Weaved throughout her pain and everyone's sorrow, there was a steady flow of love, learning, and meaningful moments.

Our Children

My husband and I agreed that observing our children with their Nana during her last years was one our greatest joys through that difficult time. Shannon and Connor were 4 and 5 years old and made it their mission to sneak into her room with an armful of books and tasty goodies to coax her to eat. While I struggled with saying the "right thing" or respecting her privacy, the kids heaped love and comfort without a second thought. They followed her lead and simply cherished her mindful presence.

Every spring I am reminded of her, especially when I start seeing the annual Easter goodies in my grocery store. My family learned a lot about our matriarch throughout her stay with us. One example was her love for Peeps. With this discovery, the kids began stashing Peeps under her pillow. Marianne would open a package of Peeps and patiently allow them to stale for a day or two before she deemed them ready for consumption. As the children snuggled in her bed reading books or watching cartoons, their thoughts would soon wander to the open pack of Peeps. Nana would sneak a nibble to see if they had reached perfection and then indulge in a Peep party with the kids. So sweet!

I continued to glean insight from my children when they were arguing at the grocery store in the Peeps aisle. Shannon was saying, "just buy these, we can get her favorite next time" but Connor would put his foot down and say, "if they don't have purple Peeps, we have to go somewhere else". When I inquired about their dilemma, I was told that Nana's favorite color was purple and purple Peeps make her "the most happy". The quest for purple Peeps began that day and continues to bring smiles whenever we encounter our cherished confection.

The Lesson to Learn

There are so many lessons that were learned throughout this stressful time. The entire family was always conscience when there were opportunities to comfort, share, and love.

I started writing this blog on September 11th, and as I was writing, I started to think of all the loved ones that have been lost in that tragedy all those years ago, and how much their families yearn for them to be around. Personally,  I miss all my lost relatives and I miss Marianne.

I wish I could say that I was mindful throughout my time with all of my wonderful family members, but I can speak to how incredibly blessed I am to have each one of them in my life. If you are fortunate enough to care for a loved-one, here are a few ideas to cherish your times together:

  • Mindfully appreciate each day, each moment... Carpe Diem!
  • If you experience awkward words or silence, let them be.
  • Share a list of 50 favorite things. Write them down. Consider the basics: colors, foods, drinks, animals. Next: places, trips, books, movies, songs. Finally: a person in history, nicknames, memories, verses, poems, sayings. The conversation and smiles that are generated by this activity is incredible. Leave the list out for visitors to comment.
  • Set kids up for success. Have them share their favorite toy or book. Let them pick out something to bring. Help them make a favorite food to give and share.
  • Try gentle touch. You might start with brushing their hair or bring some lotion to massage their hands or feet.
  • Consider doing some of these activities together: Read aloud, listen to audio books, watch movies, do a puzzle, listen to music, play a game, complete a crossword, create an electronic photo album.

These are just a few ideas to help cherish one another through a very stressful time. Be mindful to have a grateful spirit, show kindness, and forgive (yourself and others) as much as you can.

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that is why we call it the present".

~Alice Earle

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