Since August 2022, I have been spending a bulk of my week caregiving for my husband’s aunt, whom I’ve decided to call Vera in these stories. That is her middle name, and it ranked among the top 100 baby names for girls the year she was born: 1928. That makes Vera 94 at the time of this writing. God willing, she will make it to 95 later this year. Although if you ask her, she’d just as soon take a shot to the head and call it a day.
She has come close to asking, as if I would consider it, and every time I let her know it’s a nonstarter. We do joke, though, about mixing arsenic into her bourbon at cocktail hour. That seems more plausible, but I still worry about the autopsy report.
Have I mentioned that Vera has a macabre sense of humor, bone-dry wit, and an acerbic tongue? She could make Joan Rivers cry. In the last seven months, my jokes and daily observations have grown darker and more critical.
Also during that time I have collected a plethora of anecdotes, jokes, lessons, and insights, which I have begun to jot down in a notebook. On a daily basis, I share them with my husband and his four siblings, the closest things Vera has to her own children. Weekly, I talk to my sister, an ostomy nurse, and we swap stories about her patients, our aging parents, and my elderly ward (family by marriage, and now a transcendent bond by choice).
Between the laughter, a-ha moments, problem solving, and commiserating, my sister and I have realized the value of such exchanges and determined that others could benefit from our experiences. There is a reason caregivers have support groups, and nurses have such gallows humor. That shit is hard, sometimes grim, and often isolating. Digging deep to find the laughs and connecting with a community–even one other person who can empathize–mitigates the inevitable stress that accompanies caregiving and nursing in their various forms.
If any of you have cared for aging or dependent loved ones (or even hated family members or patients), you can relate to the mental and emotional–sometimes even physical–exhaustion that result from meeting myriad needs every day. And there are so many needs.
Here are just a few roles I play when I visit Vera:
- Personal chef
- Pill-box filler
- Personal shopper
- Remote-control locater
- Lady in waiting
- Ledge talker offer
- Human IMDB
- And oh so much more!
Some days when I’m at her house I want to show her this list and say, “Pick three!” Playing all of these roles is a tall order for one person, or even five people, depending on the week. It takes a village to raise a child…and manage a nonagenarian with short-term memory loss and a bad hip. Little did I know how many people would be required to keep this 5-foot-2, 105-pound hellion alive and comfortably in her own home this late in life. Some days it feels like a lightbulb joke, yet I haven’t landed on the punch line. There is no right answer, just a slew of funny ones.
Without the laughter, we would all lose ourselves in the sadness and frustration.
For those of you who can relate, I hope these stories help provide some comfort and compassion. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, just wait, and enjoy the ride. Someday you may understand.