Looking back as a Caregiver: an introduction

Recently I was asked if I’d like to write on The Caregiver’s Space and I said yes. I am grateful to start writing here with the chance to step back from this journey that I have been on with my elderly mom; a chance to recollect, reflect and go deeper into this whole area of caregiving and how it has enriched my life.

To give a little background: It’s been a little more than five years since the tables really turned with my mom. She was 93 years old, still living alone, shopping, cooking, driving and playing bridge. All that came to an end very dramatically. One day, after feeling extremely tired, she went into hospital. It turned out she had a restricted aortic valve. From that time onward, my mom stopped everything she had been doing and a professional aide, Pat, came to live with her. In a certain way she let go. It was as if she was relieved to finally be able to rest. I stayed with her for longer and longer periods of time until eventually coming to live with her permanently after she had a massive stroke. This was like an earthquake for my mom. She was thrown off balance physically and emotionally. She could not find any comfort day or night, being rocked by forces beyond her control. Gradually it died down and she became more “normal.” My mother would never walk again and as time went by, her beloved bed became a place of comfort and safety.

I was really unprepared for all these changes and I think this is probably the case for many caregivers. How can we know what is going to happen to our loved ones as they age? I was plunged many times into so much I didn’t know, so much that had to be done and so many decisions to make. It is a fast learning curve and not easy. Contact with friends and family is invaluable.

Looking back I see a big part of this journey has to do with change – a constant adapting to change in one’s loved ones, in oneself and in the circumstances of one’s life. As I wrote shortly after the stroke, “It’s a continual letting go; letting go of who my mom used to be; who I used to be with my mom; letting go and at the same time taking on new attributes like patience and more patience.”

I imagine this is the case for most caregivers to one degree or another. As our loved ones change, so we have to change. We have to let go and take on attributes that may not have been so developed. For myself, I have had to really slow down and tune into another human being. I have had to become so much more sensitive. I am literally holding another being’s “life” in my hands and at the same time, there is only so much that I can do. This paradox becomes a part of one’s life. It’s a delicate balance of doing everything that I can and at the same time knowing that so much is out of my hands. For example I can’t relieve all of my mom’s suffering and yet I try to make her as comfortable as possible. There is this leaning in with all of one’s heart and at the same time a stepping back and giving oneself space, bearing the emotional responses that inevitably arise.

From being in this position I appreciate so much more the role that a mother plays. I realize that caring for another human being does something to our psyche. It really does change one – hopefully for the better.

Part of my life since being a caregiver is writing about my experience. Each time it illuminates more -deepens my understanding and often brings me to a bigger perspective and acceptance of what is. And through it all, there is an awareness that no matter how unique “my” voyage is, it also touches on so much that is universal, cutting straight into the heart of life, death and love.

Written by Judy Fox
Judy Fox is an artist. She was born in New York City in 1947. For twenty-five years she worked for a nonprofit educational organization helping with graphic design and overseeing the print production of books and magazines. Previous to that, she taught English as a second language and got seriously involved with Buddhist meditation practice. For many years she worked at retreat centers in the US and UK. This spiritual interest, sparked initially by Buddhist practice, has continued throughout her life. Over twenty five years ago, she became the primary caregiver for her older brother who was dying of Aids and spent literally eight months by his side. From that experience, she understood the nature of caring for someone who you love deeply and because of her spiritual background she was able to gain a priceless perspective that helped so much during this very challenging time. For the past five years, Judy has been helping to care for her 98 year old mom. She also started a blog site with her good friend Andrea Hurley called “When the Table Turns” where they write heartfelt philosophical essays on the care and love for their elderly moms. Recently they have expanded their contact with other caregivers and started a virtual caregiver’s circle. They are very excited about this as a way to share their experience and learn with others.

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