The Heart of Caregiving: The Power of Reminiscing

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way.

The following story comes from staff member Daria Sawochka.

Mom and I were sitting out on the back porch one warm, summer evening when she began to reminisce about long ago summers. Mom is 85 now and I realize she has more life behind her than ahead. For that matter, so do I. She began to tell a story I’ve heard countless times before, but, for some reason, in this particular moment, it was different. I was different.  I was aware that there was nothing pressing. I was not in a hurry to get one last end of the day task complete.  I had nowhere to go. So I just settled into my chair, and looked at my Mom with open, curious eyes.

I watched Mom’s eyes grow more and more animated and alive as she spoke.  She was not only telling a story, she seemed to be reliving it too. I noticed she was even adding more details than usual with this particular telling. As I listened, we laughed and wondered out loud why people do what they do.  Then, as we tend to do, we chalked it up to yet another of life’s mysteries. We were okay with not knowing the why.

Later that evening, as Mom was saying goodnight and heading off to her bedroom, she paused, and looked back at me deeply and said she had a wonderful day and she appreciated me and my spouse’s kindness toward her, and all the things we do for her.  She was glad to have this new, loving home.

Researchers say reminiscing can have a positive and potentially calming effect on the storyteller and the simple act of listening, can counteract boredom and anxiety. We can use our memories to remind us of our strengths and how we have coped with similar situations in the past. In short, reminiscing can make us feel happier, more optimistic, and make us even feel closer to the people around us.

Reminiscing can also be beneficial by increasing self-esteem, helping us find meaning in life, and even combat loneliness. One study suggested that remembering allows the storyteller to reach into a reservoir of nostalgic memories and comfort oneself.  It can be a psychological resource that people can access to conjure up the evidence needed to assure themselves they have value.

So how do we cultivate “a moment worth remembering?” Consider using open ended questions such as; “Tell me about your first job.” Or, “What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?” Or, “Tell me about your wedding day.”  Try to respond in a positive, gentle manner and make comments to encourage the storyteller to continue.

Also, be a good listener by maintaining eye contact and not interrupting or correcting. Be as patient as you can with repetition and work to create a sweet space of unhurried time.  You just might create your own memory for future use.

The Heart of Caregiving: Spring

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way.

The following story comes from staff member Daria Sawochka.

Life is demanding.  It seems to challenge us at nearly every turn, no matter how long we’ve been on earth. Sometimes I feel like a little seed, safe and snug under a warm blanket of soil that does not want to push upward.  But grow I must–ready or not. After all, that is where the sweet smelling blossoms will be found.

As Mom settles into her new home, having just moved into my house, she adjusts. She is adjusting to life after Dad.  She is adjusting to not always knowing what day it is. She needs more reminders now. She cannot trust her memory as she once did.

There is also a growing sweetness as Mom tends to live more in the moment. She laughs easily, has the kindest soul and still looks for the good in people. She loves the energy of her 20 year old granddaughter and says she lifts her spirit, just by being near her.

I am adjusting too.  I have fancied myself a free & independent spirit, doing what I wanted when I wanted. Now I find myself in the role of caregiver.  I make sure Mom eats.  I make sure her clothes are clean and her bed is warm.  I make appointments for her and take her to them. I encourage her to come outside on invitingly sunny, early spring days.

I tend to my marriage.  I check in with my spouse to ensure we stay on the same page and continue to be “all in.”  We decided from the beginning that this arrangement needs to work for all three of us…win-win-win.

I keep my siblings in the loop, updating them along the way. I am one of the fortunate ones who has a brother and sister to talk things over with, and sometimes vent to.

Where will all this lead?  I have no idea.

I too, am getting daily practice in staying grounded in the present moment. Being here. Now. Breathing slowly through the challenges. After all, everything else is just a possibility, a guess, which may or may not happen. And that seems like a waste of precious energy.

What I do know is that I want Mom to feel loved and safe, because she gave that to me when I was a little girl. I have it to give and will do so for as long as I am able.

And the rest will simply have to take care of itself.

If you or someone you know could benefit from this kind of conversation, give Sound Generations a call at 206.448.3110. You can also email caregiver@soundgenerations.org. Trained staff will guide you forward to the Caregiver Support Program. We are stronger together. 

The Heart of Caregiving: Adjusting to Life After Loss

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way.

The following story comes from staff member Daria Sawochka, who said, “the inspiration came from a family I am familiar with who is trying to allow life to unfold as their family constellation changes.”

“It’s been just a little over six months since her husband passed away, leaving this woman, married for sixty-two years, to figure out what comes next. It seems that for so long, she has tended to the needs of others: the kids, pets, extended family and her husband’s late life health challenges. Now, at eighty-four years-old, what does she even want? Is this even knowable? She’s not sure.

She recently got back from a two-month visit with her daughters who both live over 2,000 miles away. She thrived having company and conversation each day and started to get used to sharing meals once again. She said that being with family remedied one of her greatest challenges–too much alone time.

Her well-meaning daughters have invited her to live with them, but she is hesitant. She knows this decision will change their lives and hers. She is becoming aware that her memory is not as good as it used to be and she tires more easily these days…yet she hesitates. Weary of yet another big life change? Perhaps. But it’s more than that. If she were to move, something deep inside of her feels like she would be leaving something important behind. But what is it?

She’s the last of her family. The youngest of ten, her parents have passed away as have all of her brothers and sisters and their spouses. Her closest friends are all gone too. But what is it that’s keeping her rooted to this place? Her husband was cremated and rests in a beautiful urn near her bed. She even found a “travel urn” and took him with her on her recent visit. It’s not that. Is it a timing thing? Is it simply not time for a cross-country move? Maybe. She hasn’t even gone once around the seasons without her beloved yet.

Something seems to be telling her that this chapter of her life, in this place, is not yet finished. Not complete. There is something more to come, waiting for just the right moment to reveal itself to her. For now, she is choosing to pause and she will not be rushed. She has an instinctual belief that when the time is right, she will know. In the meantime, she lets the feelings from her trip wash over her, the feeling of loving and being loved.

“What a gift,” she says. “To have such problems of being truly wanted by her family.”

She smiles, thinking back to the countless conversations she had with her husband about their good fortune in having such great kids. And just for today, that is enough.”

If you or someone you know could benefit from this kind of conversation, give Sound Generations a call at 206.448.3110. You can also email caregiver@soundgenerations.org. Trained staff will guide you forward to the Caregiver Support Program. We are stronger together. 

The Heart of Caregiving: When Life Throws You Unexpected Changes

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way. The following story comes from staff member Daria Sawochka.

There was a scene in one Downton Abbey episode when Lord Grantham, lying in bed next to his wife, with a flickering candle on his bedside table, was lamenting the notion of “electricity” coming into his home and he wondered out loud why things in life had to change so much and so quickly. And would this electricity thing really catch on? It got me thinking.

Regardless of when we were born, which era or generation we call our own, which style of music speaks to us, we all get used to things being a certain way. The older we get, the more likely we are to have experienced something the same way for a longer period of time. And when those ways come to an end, when progress steps in to mix things up, we may have differing levels of initial acceptance. Often, we may straddle the gap of doing things the familiar way while also being intrigued with the promise the new way offers.

In one’s lifetime, we will see a great deal of changes, some welcomed, many not. But life seems to continue to expand regardless of our readiness. And when we meet someone a little older who at first glance appears reluctant to move forward, adapt, or change, it would be wise to keep this in mind. This person may have a long history of things being a certain way. They grew used to one way of doing things.  Then we arrive, with a heart full of good intentions, intersecting their life in this present moment with offerings of better days ahead.

You can see this with caregiving. Friends and families establish routines, ways of being and relating to one another. Then comes a diagnosis, a fall, or a knee that simply will not bend one more time. It can be like an unwanted guest arriving, disguised as an inability to do what we once could without a second thought. Now what?

When meeting with caregivers throughout King County, first we listen. We listen for signs of what has been and what has been lost. We learn about loneliness and the preciousness of time together. Then we craft individual plans to address what is needed. We offer connections to other caregivers through classes, support groups and various community resources. We can help steer and navigate through the rough and tumble seas of uncertainty. We help caregivers create plans for the parts that are in their control and contingencies for the “what if” parts.

If you or someone you know could benefit from this kind of conversation, this type of planning, give Sound Generations a call at 206.448.3110. You can also email caregiver@soundgenerations.org. Trained staff will guide you forward to the Caregiver Support Program. We are stronger together. 

The Heart of Caregiving: Stories of Caring for Adult Family and Friends

Each member of Sound Generations’ Caregiver Support Program is or has been a caregiver to an older adult or adult child, creating a valuable shared experience among Advocates and those who seek their assistance. In this ongoing series—The Heart of Caregiving—our staff, volunteers and others share their personal caregiving stories and the insights learned along the way. Our first story, “Betty Grable’s Legs”, comes from staff member Daria Sawochka.

Recently, I flew cross country to spend some time with my dad. At 87, he has survived open heart surgery and suffers from aching arthiritis in his lower back. Still, he continues to follow world news and events with more attention to the details than I do. He had voiced a goal last fall that he hoped he would be around to vote for one more president. He cast his first presidential vote for Dwight Eisenhower back in ’52 after returning from the Korean War, having served as a marine. He said he couldn’t vote for Truman as he wanted to disband the Marine Corp.

Dad is much slower now, and has a terrible time lifting his legs into the car.  He will use a cane sometimes, but he’s mostly reluctant to use a walker. I think it just doesn’t fit into his belief of who he is. He falls asleep pretty regularly throughout the day, taking what look like little cat naps. Then he wakes up, just in time to watch the gunfight in whatever western he’d been watching. Ah, the good guys win again.

My role at this point in both of our lives is to be the one to bring available resources/options to his attention; housecleaning services, options for moving closer to me, alternative modes of transportation, Meals on Wheels, etc. His role, as a competent adult, is to decide which services he wants to try…if any.  I know in my daughter’s heart which suggestions I would want him to utilize, but I equally know, it is not my decision.

I see him giving life his very best–much like he always has.  He modifies his life when it is demanded.  Example:  Recently, after having taken his daily shower, he was sitting on the closed toilet seat shaving.  He says he can’t stand for very long these days.  He went on to say the room spun around twice and he passed out.  When he came to, he was lying half in the shower and half on the bathroom floor. Instead of deciding to grow a beard, he now sits on the living room couch to shave.  He said that this way, if it happens again, he will simply land on his favorite soft spot, where he’s taken countless naps over his lifetime.

His lower legs and feet now regularly swell due to edema.  I asked him when his next doctor’s appointment was and he had said it was four weeks out.  I asked him if he would like me to see about getting one sooner and he flatly said, “No.”  He went on to say he wakes up every morning with legs as beautiful as Betty Grable’s.  Then, due to gravity, fluid runs downhill and puffiness ensues.  His sweet sparkling eyes and charming smile swept away most of my worries once more.  How can I argue with such gentleness?

Dad’s doing life his way. He has an extraordinary way of taking it as it comes. Good with bad. Joys along with challenges.  He clearly knows what he will and will not do.  And I will keep checking in, offering my latest finds of help and support.

For more information or to talk further about your own unique situation and explore possible ways to help, contact Pathways Information & Assistance at 206.448.3110 or toll free at 1-888-435-3377. You can also email caregiver@soundgenerations.org.