The Heart of Caregiving: During This Pandemic

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.

During This Pandemic by Daria Sawochka

During this pandemic, so much has changed. I mean, who would have thought that making the heart wrenching decision to place a loved one in a care facility would mean at worst, no contact at all or at best, highly restricted visits held in a breezy, chilly tent with minimal heat?  Yet this is where many of we caregivers find ourselves these days.

The mind, if allowed to roam freely, comes up with incredible worst case scenarios such as fixating on the debilitating isolation imposed on a loved one, or noticeable declines or the worsening of symptoms. Caregivers question prior decisions-could I have done more? Should I be doing more? What on earth can I do?

And so, we caregivers sit with our questions. Yet there are times when a different view emerges. We have moments when we realize we are doing all that can be done and are learning how to become comfortable with not knowing what’s around the next corner. Spending less time and energy trying to understand life’s mysteries can be helpful.

Then a shift happens.

My highly social Mom who has been living in an assisted living facility for a little over a year now is a case in point. She’s gone from eating all her meals in a dining room filled with other residents to eating all her meals in her apartment-alone. Recently though, staff have begun to sit with her, especially since they noticed she was eating less, not very hungry, and staying in bed far more than this little energetic Virgo had ever done in her 87yrs on earth. She’s always been a doer, a helper, and has always loved being of service to others, easily offering a hand to anyone in need.

My sister and I had established a wonderful routine, visiting separately 2-3 times each week, in Mom’s apartment.  And with Mom’s memory changes, she would always be surprised & delighted when we arrived.  We’d clean up a bit, and look around to make sure she was not out of toilet paper or other personal supplies and do her laundry.  It was a special kindness to be able to care for this woman who so devotedly cared for us throughout our live

Then visits stopped-to protect residents and staff. When one resident tested positive for covid-all residents had to remain in their apartments at all times. The emotional rollercoaster this created was unimaginable. But it also allowed for me again to practice the lesson of letting go and allowing what is. I began to stop thinking EVERYTHING was up to me and under my control.  It was either that, or lose my mind.

Then, last week, I learned something remarkable. The nurse at Mom’s place casually shared in passing that Mom has been spending time each week sitting in the nurse’s office, just hanging out. Mom has always loved to watch and listen to others. A very observant woman indeed. In fact, the nurse went on to say Mom even likes to tidy up her office a bit-which the nurse finds most helpful. And with Mom’s memory not being very reliable any longer-confidentiality certainly isn’t an issue.

I learned something else with this news. My Mom, with her dementia and physically slowing down, is still finding ways to create a fulfilling life for herself. Her kind and gentle ways make her easy to be around, easily redirected. Staff regularly smile when she’s around and seem to enjoy caring for her.

It reminds me, while I may oversee certain aspects of Mom’s care, this is still very much her journey as she continues to create a beautiful and fulfilling path for herself. Mom’s life is a gentle reminder that having purpose, being kind and being of service is truly transformative.