I am a woman in my 50s who divides my time between Vancouver (Canada) and Ypsilanti, Michigan. In Vancouver, I live with my husband Pat, my 17 year old son Brendan, and our cat Goldie. Our family lives in a 1300 square foot townhouse located on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) where my husband teaches. UBC is in turn located at the end of the Point Grey peninsula, sort of tacked onto the end of Vancouver - one of North America's - if not the world's - most beautiful cities. Vancouver is not, however, the place where I was born and it is not a place where I have deep roots. That place - Ypsilanti, Michigan - is a mid-sized town in southeastern Michigan, a town that my parents still call home.
In Ypsilanti, my parents, who are in their late 70s, live in a charming three-level Cape Cod style home with a wooded backyard that is a mix of hickories and oaks. Some of the world's fattest squirrels roam the yard and birds come to my father's bird feeders, including goldfinches in the winter and hummingbirds in the summer. The contrast between my two families is huge. Our Vancouver house, where my son and cat reign supreme, is often noisy, messy, and busy. My parents normally share their home with a live-in caregiver and the loudest sound tends to be the television. There isn't a lot of action and it is hard for me to slow down to the quieter pace. At my Vancouver home I am rarely the noisiest one. In Ypsilanti, I often am.
During 2011, I spent about three months in Michigan and the rest of the time here in Vancouver, but for anyone who is a caregiver, they'll understand what I mean when I say that it felt like the opposite. The time in Michigan went very fast sometimes and seemed to stretch like taffy at other times. Last January and February were particularly challenging. In January, my mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. My sister - who lives outside of Chicago - and I took turns staying at the hospital with Mom who was sometimes delirious, coming home for stints of rest and to help Dad out. My other sister, who lives in Ann Arbor, also helped out when she could, although as a working single mother of a very busy 9 year old boy, her free time is limited. My (only) brother drove out from his home in Colorado to help for about a week with several of his adult, or nearly adult, children.
In February, Mom was home from the hospital and Dad was still exhausted from an extended period of taking care of Mom, whose arthritis and joint replacements limit her mobility and activities, and doing most of the cooking and cleaning. Dad was not only exhausted, but has a bad back, so when the fierce snowstorms of 2011 hit, I was shoveling snow almost daily and my parents' driveway never seemed sooo long. I was also the main cook, bottle washer, and general all around pill box filler. (More about the team later.) The work and caregiving was both fulfilling and frustrating in equal measure. Some days were blessings and some felt like days from hell. (I'm sure, if you are a caregiver yourself, you'll know what I mean.) Things went well enough that it seemed safe to leave in March. In April, however, disaster struck and this time both of my parents were in the hospital and I went back to Michigan. In May, my parents hired a live-in caregiver and I went back home again. (That's not me or Dad shoveling snow in the picture above, but it looks very much like our house last winter. Photo by Jonathan, flickr)
Things went along pretty well for a while, with Mom going into the hospital for another stay in the fall and Dad holding even with his back and other minor ailments. In November and December, Mom was feeling better than she had in a long time. Then, as it so often does for the elderly, disaster struck in the form of a fall. Mom tripped over a reclining chair and landed hard and ended up with a hairline fracture in her hip. Now, she's in a Rehab Center in a lot of pain and my sister and Dad need some back-up. I'm headed to Michigan again on Monday morning. Thus, the start of this blog to chronicle the events of one caregiver's life and to hopefully offer some virtual support to other caregivers out there - and I know there are lots of you!
So stay tuned.