978-750-4540

Four Ways to Care

November is National Family Caregivers’ Month. The theme this year is Caregiving Around the Clock. We at NSES recognize the many challenges family caregivers face when providing care to someone around the clock. Providing care 24hours per week/7 days per week, can crowd out other important areas of life.  Our guest blogger, Barrie Levine, has written a piece in deep appreciation of the time she had caregiving for her mother and husband. Barrie was featured in one of our past blogs for Older American’s Month. She also appeared as a guest blogger in September and you can read that story at https://nselder.org/blog/caring-for-the-caregiver-in-recognition-of-senior-center-month/

Find out more about Barrie on our blog site. You can also read more of Barrie’s blogs on her own website, “Into the 70’s-72 is the new 72” at barrielevine.com

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I look back with longing to the time when my mother Rose and my husband Paul were here with me. I recall with gratitude the blessings they brought to my life — the honor of caring for my beautiful mom as she had cared for me, and the privilege of accompanying my husband every step of the way in the struggles that brought him to the end of his life. Both are gone now, victims of dementia illnesses — Paul in December 2013, and Rose ten months later.

My life changed dramatically as one loss mercilessly followed the other. In place of caregiving day to day, I became the guardian of blessed memory. I joyously share the story of my parents’ courtship in the Catskills in the 1940s. I remember more recent times when my mom, in her late nineties, looked at me with her warm brown eyes as she sang Yiddish songs that I played on my iPod. As Paul’s wife of forty-one years, I alone hold the keys and guard the treasure of the days, years, and decades we shared.

After recovering the shattered parts of me — the broken heart — and finding new parts of me — resilience — I tried not to be too hard on myself. This was a journey like no other; there is no point in second-guessing the decisions I made for my mother and my husband. Now it was my turn to care for myself. I began to rebuild my life in the aftermath of loss, just as Paul and Rose would have wanted me to.

What helped me most to make it through the caregiving years?

First, by accepting caregiving as a gift. I, the only surviving child, vigilantly protected the well-being of a vulnerable parent, as my mother did unconditionally for me when I was a child. We became closer as I met my mom in her own changing world, rather than pressuring her to understand beyond it by explaining or correcting her. She was fully present and at her best when we met on her turf.

I am so proud of her for digging deep and nurturing me to the very last day of her life. She retained her essential sweetness and loving nature, a joy for me and all those around her. This was far more important than knowing what day it was or remembering names or sitting at a table with an organized craft activity. My son, a rabbi in Israel, explained that his Grandma Rose’s soul was so elevated that God did not need her to understand such things.

Second, by looking at caregiving for my husband as a treasured time between us along the continuum of our married life. This was our last opportunity for one-on-one focus, a fulfillment of our love for each other as lifelong partners. Despite his impairments, I understood who he was and exactly what he was trying to tell me.

Paul’s death came sooner than I was led to expect. Thankfully, our adult son Ari lived with us and became a caregiver too, allowing me to keep my husband safely at home instead of in a facility – always just a hug away.

Next, by re-framing relationships with friends and family. It’s important to let others know exactly what we need — or don’t need — for the sake of our loved one. We would do what is needed for them if the tables were turned, and the good people in our lives get that.

I learned to cancel plans or change appointments without hesitation or excuse in the daily service of safety, crisis, or exhaustion. The word “plan” has a different definition in the vocabulary of the caregiver — it’s what we carry out when the stars are perfectly aligned, about as common an occurrence as a solar eclipse.

Children see for themselves that members of the older generation are valued and cared for, patiently and lovingly. Their presence is welcomed, not feared. Everyone in the family has the opportunity to participate in their own way, making each day open to moments of insight and connection.

Finally, by honoring and supporting other caregivers – my new community. I had just enough left in me to lend a sliver of support to others, but sometimes that’s all that’s needed. My “support muscles” grew stronger, an unexpected benefit. When focusing on the needs of others in similar circumstances, I felt a temporary lightening of my own burdens. This happened in my caregivers’ support group, where respectfully listening to and feeling empathy for others created deep and enduring bonds.

I honor caregivers for being role models for their families and the community-at-large, contributing to a more humane society.

Dear Caregivers, whether friends or family, workers or volunteers, or those in committed careers, I entered our community without a roadmap, because none exists. After a while, I stopped the endless researching of internet sites and began to trust my heart. This gave me courage and clarity.

Then, I was able to give Rose and Paul what they really wanted from me — my time, a loving touch, a focused presence, a steady voice, a shared meal — the simple pleasures that we all appreciate whether giving or receiving them.

Talking to you, wife,

my words escape to thin air.

Yet, you pounce on them for me,

woman warrior.

by Barrie Levine

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North Shore Elder Services offers families caregiver support. If you are feeling in need of encouragement and support, call 978-750-4540 to speak to a Family Caregiver Specialist. Support groups are held twice monthly at our offices and you can learn more about them at https://nselder.org/family-caregiver-support-program/

Author Info

Barrie Levine

Barrie Levine grew up in New Jersey and relocated to Boston to attend Boston College Law School, class of 1971. She married her husband Paul in 1972, and they raised his two little boys and their own son and daughter in Essex, MA. Paul owned and operated his salon Bravissimo Hairdresser in Beverly Farms. Barrie practiced family law litigation and mediation in Salem until her retirement last year. Presently, she leads writing workshops, works part-time for the Town of Wenham, is an avid gardener and hiker, and regularly visits her grandchildren in New York City and Israel. She recently launched her blog entitled "Into the 70s - 72 is the new 72" and writes weekly articles and nostalgia pieces for her peers at www.barrielevine.com

Comments ( 2 )

  • Yaffaart@aol.com'
    Janice Cepler

    Barrie,
    You were truly a beautiful caregiver for your mom , our Aunt Rose, and Paul. Life goes so fast in our lives and you were always able to make the most out of their lives. At some point I would like to write about my mother’s life. Thank you for being a role model!

    Janice

  • Jlecomte24@comcast.net'
    Judy LeComte

    Beautifully written. You always touch my heart ❣ when I read your blogs and letters. We are overwhelmed in the beginning with the struggles of being a caretaker but when we cherish each moment and savor the time together with our loved ones we realize it is truly a blessing. I would go back in a heart beat to see my Mother and Father again …. and whatever they needed…… the giving and caring …..the emotional exhaustion…it’s all 💕 LOVE 💕 given and returned and treasured forever. Thank you Barrie. Love you always.

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