Opinion

Care for the caregivers | Ann Oxrieder

For six years my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and needed full-time care. She received this care in a loving adult family home, and I could enjoy her during the time we had together.

Before walking became too difficult for her, on Saturday mornings we headed to Factoria Mall, where, fortified with a Starbucks’ Americano, she liked to peer into all the storefront windows, check out new arrivals at The Rack, and marvel at the children interacting with exhibits in the KidsQuest Museum.

Her caregivers, on the other hand, did the jobs I didn’t have the strength or desire to do. When they gave her a shower, they had to listen to her shriek, “You’re killing me.” They cleaned up her messes and hurried to dress her when, sitting with others in front of the TV, she removed all her clothes.

This is not to say that she posed extraordinary problems for them, just the usual ones we associate with people who are losing many of their mental capacities, along with some of their physical ones.

I am the lucky daughter, the one who could enjoy her mother fully without frustration, anger or exhaustion. But what about those who do the caregiving? Who takes care of them?

“Mosaic Moon,” by Frances H. Kakugawa, tells the story of a caregiver and poet who, with the help of the Alzheimer’s Association in Hawaii, initiated a year-long poetry and journaling workshop for caregivers, a program that I believe still continues. The experience gives the caregivers permission to write about whatever they want, including the most stomach-churning aspects of their work, as well as their frustration.

Writing transforms them. They balance their anger with the addition of love and joy. Poems of the workshop leader and five of the participants fill most of the book. The poets don’t hold back.

The 2010 census tells us that more than 2,600 Bellevue residents are over 85 and another 6,500 range in age from 60-64. The odds are great that some of those in the first group are receiving care and that some in the latter – usually daughters – are providing it. This book is for anyone who gives care, or anticipates they will need care at some point in their lives. (I know, none of us believes we’ll be the ones who need it.) The former will receive comfort knowing they’re not alone and the latter will feel nothing but gratitude to those who do this emotionally demanding work.

 

Ann Oxrieder has lived in Bellevue for 35 years. She retired after 25 years as an administrator in the Bellevue School District and now blogs about retirement at http://stillalife.wordpress.com/.

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