a caregiver's purse - you have to be prepared

As you’ve no doubt discovered already, becoming a caregiver gives new meaning to the words “be prepared.” Why this isn’t the Girl Scout motto instead of the Boy Scout’s is beyond me. After all, the female of our species is expected to anticipate every situation. Look at our handbags. On an ordinary day, they not only contain keys, a wallet, and a makeup pouch, but also protein bars, bottled water, a cell phone, a damp washcloth in a plastic bag (no wait, that was my mother), and a mini pharmacy.

Judith at four in her caregiver-in-training days.

And when life changes dramatically, the contents of our purses tell that story. So it was for me when, in 2007, my elderly father slipped and hurt his back and my mother, at 85, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

At any given time, I carried:

  1. Hastily jotted sticky notes, which sometimes tagged along on the back of my pants as I ran errands. What amazed me was that no one ever bothered to say anything.
  2. A tube of Burt’s Bees colored lip-gloss. It gave my tired face a bit of garish color when I needed it.
  3. Twenty to-do lists. Some were written in my father’s methodical script, but most contained my own illegible scrawl.
  4. A pound of change for the parking meter at my mother’s rehab center. Twenty minutes for a quarter. About what my time was worth.
  5. A key ring to make a janitor swoon. It held twelve keys, including those to my office, house, and car; my parents houses and their safe deposit box, along with an assortment of scan thingies from Stein Mart and TJ Maxx for retail therapy.
  6. My cell phone. Instead of salivating like Pavlov’s dogs every time it rang, my body’s response was a spray of adrenaline up my spine that began to wear me out. To keep my sanity, I finally bought a different phone with a whole new selection of ring tones.
  7. Tweezers, for pulling stray chin hairs that literally appeared out of nowhere. They always caught the light as I glanced into my visor mirror while sitting in traffic. Who can pluck when everyone’s watching?
  8. A pocket calendar with laughably small squares. Imagine real life fitting into a one-inch box.
  9. A brochure for an assisted living facility my mother couldn’t bear to think she might actually need. I was beginning to wonder if I should apply.
  10. A relaxation CD my dear friend Anne sent me. Great stuff, if I only had time to listen. 

And, as if that wasn’t enough, I added:

  1. A variety of notepads and pens that I tended to leave behind like a trail of breadcrumbs.
  2. Copies of my parents’ HIPPA forms; durable powers of attorney; healthcare surrogate documents; and living wills. I never considered it ghoulish to carry their DNR’s (Do Not Resuscitate), as well. It is always about being prepared.
  3. A list of important family and medical contacts.
  4. A pair of foldable flat shoes. This may seem like an odd one, but when you have a parent in the hospital, the distance to the parking garage from their room will always be farther than you can walk in heels.
  5. Something to nosh on while sitting at the hospital, usually a plastic bag of homemade granola. Plain or on top of yogurt, it was often a healthier alternative to the hospital cafeteria offerings.

Last, but not least, I rarely went anywhere without my sense of humor. Because, at times, it would save me when nothing else could.

So tell me – what are some of the things you carry in your own caregiver’s toolbox?

Want to learn more about Judith? Check out her caregiver profile, connect with her on the forums, and look out for her upcoming book, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving.

Written by Judith Henry
When Judith’s parents became ill in 2007, even her reputation as a pragmatist, planner, and dutiful daughter (her father’s term) couldn’t prepare her for what lay ahead – a long list of concerns that included navigating an unfamiliar healthcare system, addressing financial and legal issues, dealing with stress, unexpected family dynamics, and ultimately making hospice arrangements. That experience led her to write, The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving, part intimate recollection and part down-to-earth advice. Loaded with humor and not a few tears, it's geared towards adult children who find themselves taking on more responsibility for an aging parent’s well-being. Judith also speaks on a variety of topics, including caring for older adults; dealing with grief and loss; the benefits of expressive writing for caregivers. Her presentations and workshops are appropriate for a wide range of businesses and organizations including civic associations, writer’s groups, women’s centers, health maintenance and healthcare facilities. Described as a warm and engaging speaker, Judith excels at connecting with an audience through humor, personal knowledge and experience. She can be reached through www.JudithDHenry.com

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  1. And it happens before you know it! Find comfort in knowing you’re not the only one, Jenn. Thanks so much for leaving a comment.

  2. This is so true! My “purse” has now turned into a backpack to hold everything. But I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who does this! 🙂

  3. Hi, Karen – Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I’ve learned never to travel anywhere without a sense of humor. I’ve signed up for your blog. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  4. Oh, sharing the contents of one’s purse is quite intimate — and revealing. Thanks for letting us take a peak into the world of a caregiver. Notes, forms, self-care items, and humor! Good to know.

  5. Ok, Kate – I burst out laughing after reading your comment. You have taken the words “be prepared” to heart, and that includes keeping your sense of humor. Bravo!

  6. Loved reading this!! I too keep all of the above. A few days ago, heading out the door for Dr appts, my 90yr old Mom with Dementia stopped an gave me the strangest look. I asked her what was wrong? She asked me where my weapon was. I said I dont have a weapon, she began laughing an told me quote ‘you could knock someones block off with that purse you carry’!! LOL

  7. They say that “weight-bearing” exercise is the key to avoiding osteoporosis at my age. I figure that lugging my 30# purse around, plus my mom’s purse, plus everything else, should keep my bones in great shape for years to come! Although my shoulders do complain at times. I forgot to mention that I DO have a concealed carry permit for the .380, and forgot to mention the cellphone, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, two sets of car keys, extra keys, and I’m ashamed to admit a pack of smokes and at least 2 lighters. I need a pack mule. Maybe I should get one of those doggy packs for my sweet German Shepherd so she could help me out? She would in a heartbeat.

  8. Susan, you’ve done an amazing job of being prepared. I continue to be awed by the ways in which caregivers rise to the challenges before them.Thanks so much for your kind words about the book and for sharing.

  9. When my Mom came to live with me 4 years ago she had so much paper work that I made up a 3 ring notebook with those plastic pages and in it I keep several copies of her meds (in case we have to go to the hospital I just whip out a copy for them), copies of her ID,medical card info,pacemaker info,POA,SS info and anything and everything that I would need for her care…that stays in the trunk of my car and copies of all of the notebook can be found in my computer for back up…that leaves my purse to handle extra pain and daily meds, diabetes supplies,snacks and my Kindle for any and all notes,games,books for those long doctor appointments,and of course a bottled water and sugar free kool-aid…extra clothes for her and I in case there might be a hospital stay,extra diapers are in a small suitcase in the trunk as well…you just never know when you might need these things…Judith I am looking forward to your book…

  10. That’s beautifully said, Anita. Thanks so much for commenting.

  11. Thank you Judith, I can relate to your story as well as to the other comments. I never leave home without my rosary & prayer card, so I always have a reminder of where I came from & where I’m going & Who’s always with me every single step of my journey.

  12. Thanks for the kind words and a peak inside your purse, Renee! I definitely think you’ve covered all the bases. 🙂

  13. Great article! People laugh and call it my Mary Poppins bag! I have mom’s file with POA, DNR, etc, hand sanitizer, Kleenex, assortment of pain relievers, band aids, puzzle books, reading book, small devotional book, worry cross, iPad mini, phone, chargers, snacks, bottle of water, pens, pencils, a notepad, brush, occasionally dog treats!, extra keys, nail file, lip sticks, business cards (great networking can happen while spending time at a hospital or Drs office). I’ve determined I need to take a weight lifting class to keep in shape for hauling this bag around…oh wait….is that my stretch bands I found in the bottom?

  14. Great answer! You are one well-prepared woman! 🙂

  15. Hahaha…..my “purse” weighs about 30 lbs. I’ve got the usual wallet, checkbook, sunglasses, “cheater” glasses, small makeup bag (that seldom gets used), mom’s checkbook & cash, a tape measure, a leatherman multitool, a combination flashlight/taser, a Smith & Wesson BG .380 with laser sights (my ex husband is a sociopathic stalker, and after 13 years I still don’t trust him), a very nasty springblade knife, several pens, a bound notebook, note paper for lists, a small toolkit for the tip of my pool cue, a small RX kit of both prescribed and OTC meds for both me & mom, some tic tacs, 3 or 4 chap sticks, a few dog treats for my German Shepherd, and god knows what else. It wouldn’t surprise me if they find Jimmy Hoffa’s body in there someday.

    • I love your “purse”!! You are my hero, Milehilady…after all you’ve gone through, you made me laugh! My purse weighs about as much as yours and causes me to need neck and back PT, but everything in it is indispensable. I’m tempted to get a rolling suitcase, but then how would I push my husband’s wheelchair, lol!


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