In The Beginning

It has been too many years since I’d sat at a desk in a classroom, I thought while looking through the Adult Community Class Winter Schedule. My 2013 goal was to write a memoir about our experience surviving traumatic brain injury (TBI). It had been a story I wanted to write for twenty-two years, but didn’t know how to go about it. I knew I needed knowledge and help with this goal, so I was especially interested by the “Writing Class” listed on the schedule. I didn’t know how I’d make time for this class between my work and caregiving demands, but I signed up for it anyway.

I recognized the familiar echoing taps of my shoes as I rushed down the large empty hallway of Indian Hills Middle School looking for the classroom.  It should have only been a ten minute drive, but it took me longer because I’d never been there before and it was hidden in a subdivision unknown to me. I opened the closed door, late as usual and unsure of what I’d gotten myself into. As I hurried to find the closest chair, the teacher, Brenda Bensch, smiled and welcomed me to the class.

Embarrassed by my tardiness, I apologized as she handed me the outline for the next several weeks. Although I wasn’t getting a grade or any kind of credit for the class, I wanted to do my best. I felt overwhelmed by the schedule. How would I fit writing on top of all my other responsibilities? I stayed focused on my goal and stuck with it.

Not the most flattering picture of me, but the only one I have with my writing teacher, Brenda Bench (in the red) and favorite classmate, Susan Knight (in the blue).

Not the most flattering picture of me, but the only one I have with my writing teacher, Brenda Bensch (in the red) and my favorite classmate, Susan Knight.

That class and the next one in the spring influenced my life for the better and I have Brenda Bensch to thank for it. Some of her words of encouragement ring in my ears to this day. She taught if you want to be better at writing, you have to practice, just like anything else you do.  “Start a blog; write every day or at least three times a week.”  In my mind, I scoffed at the suggestion. There is no way I could make time to do that. I just want to focus on my book.  The more I wrote and had my chapters critiqued, the more I realized the importance of practice.

That summer Mark was hospitalized three times for blood clots. He got really weak so we spent twenty-one days at Rocky Mountain Care Center. While we were there, Mark’s occupational therapist, Jessica, suggested I start a caregiver’s support group. I thought, Where would I find time to do that? Jessica urged me by expressing the need, which she observed from other personal caregivers. “Your experience could be valuable to them.”

“Maybe I could start an online support group which could encourage and help other caregivers in the comfort of their own home and whenever it’s convenient for them.” Jessica loved the idea and just about every day for the duration of our stay she encouraged me to do it.

I work on a computer daily, but had no experience online. How do I create a website which could encourage caregivers? My talented daughter, Katie, designed Uniting Caregivers and taught me how to use it. I’m so grateful for her skills and patience with me in this endeavor.

My past writing experience has mostly been on a business level of composing demand letters for payments on delinquent accounts. Writing a book or an article is a very different style of writing and much more enjoyable I might add. I appreciate and I’m so grateful for my sister-in-law, Dianne, who proofreads every article and corrects my punctuation. She gives me the confidence I need to publish the article.

Today marks the second anniversary of Uniting Caregivers.  I’ve learned much about caregiving and caregivers through the story’s others have shared. Through my experience the past two years, I realize how therapeutic writing is. It has increased my understanding of others as well as myself. As I search for the right words to express my thoughts and feelings, I come to see things more clearly.

In the beginningEvery caregiver I see, I admire. They’re putting another’s need before their own wants. I feel their exhaustion and worry. I share their overwhelming responsibility and increased love for the person they care for. Without even exchanging words, I feel connected to them. I want to know about their story. How do they manage all they have to do? What keeps the love growing and resentment at bay? When would they have time to share their thoughts and feelings?

I’ve greatly benefited from this experience and appreciate you as a reader or a guest author. If you’d like to share your story, I’d love to publish it on Uniting Caregivers. It may seem like a daunting task, but I’ll help and support you any way needed. Your experience will be valuable to me and to others. We are in this together, encouraging and inspiring one another.

Caregiving Reflections

Written by, Dianne Breitling

Dianne & MomMother’s Day has become a time of reflection for me as I remember the final years my mother and I spent together. The hours we shared as well as those spent doing things for her are precious to me now, filling my heart with gratitude for circumstances which allowed me this privilege.

My mother had spinal disc problems which resulted in several surgeries and constant pain. She also had to have both hips replaced. Because of her physical limitations, my father became her caregiver doing all of the cooking and housekeeping for about fifteen years. Late in life my mother developed severe arthritis, which greatly limited the use of her amazingly creative hands. Through it all, my mother could always be seen with the most wonderful smile on her face. She loved people more than anyone I have ever known. For the final eighteen months she was in her scooter most of the time because the pain had become more than she could bear when walking.

At age 85, my father had a minor car accident, making him feel unsafe on the road. His wise decision to stop driving was the start of my journey as a caregiver for both of them. Since I lived close by, I gladly took on the responsibility to drive them wherever they needed to go such as doctor and dentist appointments, getting haircuts, and shopping as well as picking up prescriptions or any other household or personal items they needed. This was a difficult transition for my father since he had been the caregiver for my mother for so many years.  He went from doing everything for the two of them to depending on others in a relatively short time and each loss was painful for me to watch.

Both of my parents became so comfortable with me doing things for them that even when my siblings offered to help by taking them to their doctor’s appointments, they wanted me to do it because I was familiar with their needs and knew the doctors they were seeing. They also preferred me to do the shopping over my siblings because I knew their likes and dislikes.

Dad became very ill and had an emergency colostomy, changing our world drastically. I spent countless hours with him in the hospital trying to get answers from the medical team and worrying that we might lose him, while still caring for my mother’s needs. When he returned home it became clear I could not carry on with everything I had been trying to manage while adding the new burden of changing his colostomy bag regularly. My brother would sometimes do this, but he had irregular work hours and lived further away so it was difficult for him to be there at the needed times. The responsibilities had fallen on me because of how close I lived to them and because I was the only child who did not have a full-time job.

Dianne's DadAfter three years and growing needs, I requested each of my siblings to take one day to check on them. They were asked to make sure our parents had everything they needed and to help with dinner if necessary. When our father was in the rehab center, the scheduled person for the day was responsible to lay out breakfast, medications and check on mother by phone in the morning. This gave me two assigned days instead of the five to seven days I had been used to, but even that became difficult because if someone couldn’t meet their obligation my mother would call me and ask me to come over. Calls early in the morning or late at night were a regular occurrence. Often I would hear from my parents and my siblings that I was a life-saver or they wished I didn’t need to do so much, but after years of struggling with so many responsibilities, those words were not enough. I can see now it would have been so much better if I had been able to convince my parents to let me hire some outside help, but when I was in the middle of the experience, it was hard to know what to do. Looking back usually changes the perspective and solutions become clear.

In 2010 my father was hospitalized with a severe infection (MRSA) and while in rehab, he agreed to move into an assisted living center. My brother, sister and I made the arrangements, but at the last-minute he changed his mind. He didn’t want to give up the little bit of independence he still had, making those last days in his home emotionally difficult for both of us. I wanted to help make it possible for him to live at home, but told him when he could not prepare their meals that would no longer be possible. Both parents refused the idea of having Meals on Wheels delivered or having someone come in to cook and clean a few times a week. At this time the emotional strain was increasing because they knew I was making it possible for them to live in their home. This created feelings of gratitude, but also resentment towards me because I had too much say about what happened to them.

After a second bout with the MRSA infection, my father realized his strength wasn’t returning and once again asked me to make arrangements for them to move into an assisted living center. My father only lived there for five months before he passed away. My mother was lonely and continued to need attention after his passing. My siblings and I continued our daily schedule of checking in on her for the additional thirteen months of her life at the assisted living center.

Through all of the years of caregiving, my husband was always supportive. Not only did he spend time doing many things for them, he never complained when he came home to an empty house and no dinner or when our lives were put on hold while I met the needs of my parents.

As I reflect on the time spent caring for my aging parents, I realize the major challenge was recognizing the weight which came from the cumulative effect of the responsibilities taken on. The coordinating of two households with the added worry and care of their declining health was extremely difficult.

Dianne's ParentsWhile I missed spending time with my children and grandchildren during this time, I am grateful I was given the strength to care for my parents during their final years. When I look back on this experience, it is clear that the blessings far outweigh the sacrifices. My feelings are joy and comfort because I have no regrets. I’m happy they are in a better place without health complications and pain; but      I love and miss them both.

Thank you Dianne for your caregiving example and for sharing your experience on Uniting Caregivers. What a wonderful daughter and big difference you made in their lives.