From The End of the Beginning
INTERNET AND FACETIME, EMAIL, FACEBOOK, Etc.
I’ll be blunt. My parents, while really really smart and without an ounce of dementia, just were too much of luddites to be successfully converted into the 21st century as users of personal computers, smart phones or any of the applications (apps) that might have made their lives more stimulated. I got them cellphones (simple ones) in Florida a couple of years before they moved to Southern California. They never used them once. The little buttons, their eyes (cataract surgery notwithstanding), — they just never took to them (and this was before smart phones).
I have friends whose folks became power users of their phones and computers, but no matter how I tried — tablets, even — they just had no interest in trying them. That’s why I am so thrilled to have “live transcribe” now – I can set up a tablet and turn it on and prop it up and it automatically transcribes whatever is spoken in the room. Marilou doesn’t have to touch it. The font size is changeable and you can even save the transcriptions on the web for 3 days and refer to them later, copy and paste them into emails or documents, etc.
I personally found Facebook to be really handy for sharing pictures and news about them easily with family members back East, and several of my FB friends also enjoy keeping up with my posts about them.
LETTERS, CARDS, POSTAGE ADDRESS BOOKS
Marilou is an avid correspondent with family and friends via snail mail. Her address book, kept for years, is very important, and I’m diligent to make sure that I know where she stashes it, as that is her habit – sometimes putting it in her walker, sometimes under some papers on a shelf next to her, sometimes over by a chair where she writes letters. I also know that she likes the American Flag postage stamps which fortunately are the default ones that the machines at the post office print out and vend, so I can always buy them without standing in line. She’s a real patriot and likes displaying the flag at patriotic holidays, and we have a little one in the apartment that is kept in a prominent spot where she can see it easily.
CAR TRUNK: FOLDING WHEELCHAIR, FOLDING WALKER
The trunk of my car has a portable wheelchair, a folding walker (tennis balls on the rear feet – we don’t use it anymore, but it was handy to use when going to restaurants, etc. so that their bulky walkers could be left at home. I would always use a wheelchair to transport my folks to the car and then fold it up and put it in the trunk after getting them loaded in the passenger seat when taking them to appointments or outings.
DIGITAL PICTURE FRAMES
These digital picture frames are neat. They only cost about 40 bucks and you can transfer tons of family pictures onto them via USB. Both of my folks really enjoyed seeing the slide show of all their memories. I varied the duration – but never less than 30 seconds. They seemed to respond best to the 10 minute durations, as they would bring up memories in conversation more readily when I changed the duration to the longer period.
EMPATHY, MENTAL TOUGHNESS, COPING STRATEGIES, AND ENJOYING THE ROLE
This is an important section of my sharing – When I realized that the time had arrived when my Dad was not able to stay independent with Marilou in Florida much longer, by virtue of his actively shopping for a senior living community there and sharing with me that he was too anxious about Marilou’s personal safety from falling/fainting and his inability to “catch her or pick her up” without assistance, I fairly quickly had to make a decision: Either a) assist him in shopping for a supportive community there in Florida and essentially abdicate myself from any day to day role in their continued survival – or – b) step up and offer to find a senior living community near me in Southern California and thereby commit to a time-consuming day to day role in their lives.
It’s psychologically daunting to be in this position, so I knew that if I was going to survive the commitment I was about to make, I had to give myself a mindset that was going to be agreeable and enjoyable for all concerned. I decided that a way to do that was to use my show business background and “play to my strengths:” I’m a location scout / manager and my main job is to “sell intrusion” to unsuspecting location owners or to quickly check availability for intrusion with established location owners. It’s a salesman’s job, essentially – I have to be “jovial under pressure,” and not take no for an answer – “close the deal.” It becomes a “character” that I play – a very empathetic but insistent nerd with a heart of gold who only wants to make them richer and happier while getting myself out of the trouble I’m finding myself in — needing desperately to find a location to rent to bring a large crew to for filming one project or another.
Mort and Marilou were clear about NOT wanting me to feel obligated to devote myself to such an extreme degree — they were willing to “go it alone” in Florida, as they had been for 22 years, but I quickly disabused them of that notion and “sold” them on my happiness to a) not have to worry about them, b) to not have to stay in hotels when visiting them, and c) to not having to wonder how they were doing every day. In so doing, I was ALSO selling MYSELF on this truth. I knew that I was signing up, potentially, to a lot of anxiety, but I also knew that if I stayed “in character-” the happy, over-compensating, absent-minded professor son — the list-making, deal-closing, forward-moving, over-organized fussy but funny guy who was determined to make them feel reassured, less anxious about the future, and listened to — I’d SUCCEED at the task at hand (in both the short and long run) and that I could have faith in my ability to make myself happy for having made the commitment.
I also had the personal circumstances present that sort of ‘cornered me’ into stepping up: I wasn’t in a relationship, so there was nobody else depending on me on a full time basis. I had barely enough money saved, and my career was slowing to a point that I kind of couldn’t afford NOT to step up, or I’d run the risk of regretting that I DIDN’T do so for an honest, compelling reason. It was an “Aw shucks, I’m ‘all in’” moment.
And for 8 years and counting, I have pretty much stayed “in character.” During my work life, my character had to be more impatient, efficient, relentless and “not suffering fools gladly” as an Assistant Director in Television. I was a very effective Key 2nd AD – running a shooting set with a First AD and Key Crew Members and getting a lot of work done in a hurry. Taking on eldercare is all about being patient, flexible, careful, attentive, calm, sweet and forgiving.
Now, I am fortunate that my parents are/were intelligent, kind, funny and sweet people in their own right. My upbringing was not characterized by the kinds of pathologies I hear about from others, so I was quite clear-headed about my feelings of obligation and gratitude that accompanied my personal courage to step up and grow up/into this role.
Make no mistake: if you become a caregiver, you WILL get frustrated and impatient. This is why I think it’s important to have strapped on a fun and invigorating “character” to role-play within in all circumstances — one that is true to your inner nature, but one that is certainly a moment by moment conscious pretense that masks your feelings of frustration and impatience. Remember – you don’t have to answer to these people or prove anything to them anymore. That was when you were a kid. Now, your role is to be supportive, nurturing, reassuring and kind. You might feel momentarily “put upon,” angry, and rebellious (those are familiar reactions that you got to exercise a LOT when you were a teenager, but just because they are easy habits to fall back into – they aren’t helpful), but by staying “in character,” you can fulfill your noble role on this new stage – a smaller and more compact stage.
For their worlds have become momentously smaller as they have become geriatric – they play more feeble and vulnerable roles on this smaller stage, and they will certainly stay “in character,” even as you might “go up” on your lines and improvise awkwardly, employing old habits that exhibit sharp edges. Don’t worry. It’s just “family stuff,” and they understand that. They watched you try on ALL your roles from infancy onward. When you regain your new nurturing character, you both can go back to running through your mutually healthy “routines” and enjoy this latter-day “Vaudeville” era of your time together.