2 Valuable Caregiving Lessons From My Mother-in-Law

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by Carlos Briceño |

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Over Easter weekend, my mother-in-law, Edwina, visited. My wife, Jill, and I are always happy to see her, and as usual, the conversation turned to the latest news in the family.

One notable occurrence was a situation involving her brother’s mother-in-law, Lucille, whose health at 97 years old is fragile. The brittle nature of Lucille’s bones, caused by osteoporosis, led to a fracture in her leg last year, which resulted in a 7-inch open wound and the placement of a rod to hold the bone in place to heal.

Lucille was already being cared for by her daughter, Linda, and Linda’s husband, Tim, who is Edwina’s brother. As fate would have it, Linda broke her arm in two places two months after her mother’s injury. Edwina, who has known Lucille and Linda for more than 50 years, decided to help with the caregiving duties because Linda needed surgery and was out of caregiving commission for a brief spell.

Edwina has extensive experience as a caregiver. Her youngest child was in a coma after a car accident as a teenager and overcame traumatic brain injuries. Her late husband had Huntington’s disease (HD), which was passed on to my wife and our daughter, who are also gene-positive for the neurodegenerative illness.

Edwina made two points during our conversation that I want to share. One of them was something I knew already about caregiving, and the other was something I hadn’t thought about.

For a week and a half, Edwina stayed at her brother’s home helping to take care of Lucille. Because Lucille was weak after her leg surgery, it was possible that she might choke when she ate. So, doctors provided a G-tube for her to receive nourishment. Edwina fed her via the G-tube, which reminded her of the times she fed her husband through his when he suffered from HD. She changed her wet clothes and woke up several times at night when Lucille experienced nightmares or felt disoriented.

Because Edwina cared for her husband for years, she knew the impact caregiving was going to have on her brother’s and sister-in-law’s lives. They were going to be tired. Their active lives were going to take a back seat to Lucille’s needs.

“I kept saying to them, ‘You need to make time for yourself,'” Edwina said.

I’ve heard this piece of advice countless times as an important lesson to heed.

“‘You need to figure out a way to get help,'” Edwina continued. “‘You don’t know how long Lucille will live. You have to think about the long haul. If she lives to be 105 years old, you have to get enough rest to deal with it.'”

She also shared something I hadn’t heard before. Those who are being cared for need to see people beyond those who are caring for them. This variety helps them in their suffering and gives them something else to look forward to.

Edwina mentioned how, several months after the fracture occurred, Lucille’s recovery was going well. One day, Edwina, her sister, and Linda had lunch together. (A caregiving attendant was taking care of Lucille.) Despite her macular degeneration, Lucille noticed them arriving back home through the window in the living room where her bed was set up.

She was so thrilled to have company that she dressed herself without any help from the attendant, and was sitting and waiting for the three women to enter the home.

“You have to remember that caregiving is for the person for whom you are caring, and that variety is the spice of life,” Edwina said. “Just like caregivers need to enjoy the company of others, so do those who are being cared for.”

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