The Heart of Caregiving: Survival of the Adaptable

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.

Survival of the Adaptable by Daria Sawochka

It seems life is always wanting us to grow.  Whether we are ready or not, does not matter.  I’ve observed this with several older relatives of mine as I witnessed their later years unfold.

I used to think, at some point in a good long life, there will be an opportunity to coast, to rest and take it easy.  Like riding a bike, you pedal hard to get up the hill, but then comes the thrill of coasting down in that wonderfully effortless way.  Sure, there are moments of coasting in one’s life, but there is truly far more pedaling than I ever imagined.

And so it is with aging. Take the person who has lived in one place for 40 or 50 years, only to come to the day when they can no longer stay there safely and need to consider other options.  Sometimes people move to be closer to family and friends.  Sometimes they move to a place that offers much needed services for the things that don’t come as easy as they used to. Finances can also dictate a needed move.

And so, at any age, we begin again. We adapt.

I am watching my Mom begin again.  After over 80 years of living with her parents and siblings, then husband and kids, she is now living in an assisted living facility.  The transition has its challenges. Feeling lonesome and lost at times, Mom wasn’t so convinced about her new home. We asked her to try. We needed her to try.

Some three weeks in, I am seeing a settling in.  A new routine is forming. New relationships are developing. 

I needed the help.  I was not thriving near the end of Mom living with me. I couldn’t keep up with her ever growing care needs and had many sleepless nights, feeling like a failure as a daughter.  You know that self-talk, “if I only could or was better.”

I am still her caregiver.  I visit several times each week.  I oversee her care, follow up with medical appointments when needed.  I too, am getting to know new people and the many staff whose eyes sparkle when they say hello. After all, their shift has just started or is just about to end.

Nothing’s perfect.  I’m not even sure if I believe in perfect anymore. I think I am embracing, “just enough.” For now, at least. But I can say that this is working.  Mom has more social time with many different and kind hearted people than she had with me.

And I get to be a daughter again.  I get to visit Mom and just be with her.  Oh sure, I am always scanning her new apartment for garbage that needs emptying, or dishes that need a quick wash and the ever present tidying up.  But it feels so very different to me now.  I have help.  I have a team of people helping to ensure Mom has quality to her life in the form of new faces who haven’t listened to her stories as often as I have or care about their inaccuracies.  Or someone else to offer their curiosity to her history or to how she came to be the woman she now is.

And I wonder, was it me all along who wasn’t ready for this change?  Was it me who resisted adapting because where would that leave me?  Would I still be needed?  Would I still matter? And what would I do with my one wild and precious life that was no longer on the back burner?

I just may be adapting too.