Thursday 6 November 2014

The Psyche of the Caregiver: A Story of Eldercare Devotion

This is the second in our National Caregiving Month series of blog posts from YOU, our readers and fellow caregivers!  Judy Fox and Andrea Hurley are the co-authors of one of my favourite eldercare blogs, "When The Table Turns".  Thank you for telling your story here at the Caregivers' Living Room, Judy! 

It happened suddenly…from one moment to the next, my then 93 year old mother went from living independently – driving, cooking, shopping and playing bridge – to being hospitalized with a restricted aortic valve. She came out of the hospital forever changed. From that time onward, my mother began to live with a professional Aide, Pat.  Mom stopped all the activities she was doing before and just let go. Surprisingly she didn’t seem to miss her previous life. It was as though she was waiting to be able to just stop. When that happened 5 ½ years ago, I began to live with her for longer and longer stints of time until about two years ago, after she had a massive stroke and could no longer walk.  I moved down to Florida permanently. She is now 98 years old.

It’s been quite a journey. There are many details which I have left out, but I am sure there is much that overlaps to some degree with all caregivers – the times when there are many medical decisions to make, so much uncertainty;  the times of intense anxiety and worry and the times when the clouds part and light streams through, and everything in-between.  I am also aware that everyone’s situation is unique but it seems that for many of us caregivers, we are unprepared for what initially unfolds. How could we prepare for so many possible scenarios?  My experience is, and I’m sure that I am not alone, that I had to plunge in and learn fast.  It was not easy.  Luckily, I had friends and relatives to support me.

In many ways, being in a caregiving position, as I live with my mom 24 hours a day, has forced me to slow down- literally and metaphorically. I have had to slow down to tune into my mother’s needs, moods and on-going changes. From being in this position I appreciate so much more the role that a mother plays. I realize that caring for another human being does something to our psyche. It really does change one and hopefully for the better. Over this time, I have developed patience, a quality that never was so strong in me, and an ability to step back, observe and reflect. There are always subtle and then not so subtle changes happening all the time that need to be responded to when you hold another being’s life in your “hands.”  My mother is so fragile now in a way that “forces” me to be more sensitive.

A story to tell you about that just happened today. My mother has been eating less and less as so often occurs with the very aged. She doesn’t see, taste, or smell very well and basically lying in bed all day, she has very little appetite. This is a radical change from the Jewish mom who loved to feed her children and loved to eat as well. The challenge, as you can imagine, is to find food she will eat and at the same time not force her in any way. It’s a balancing act. So today I was thinking about what to give her for dinner – something she hasn’t eaten for a long time which might entice her. I offered to make blueberry pancakes and she said “Yes,” to my surprise.

Now, I am a bad pancake-maker – always have been – never learned the trick to making them and hardly ever eat them myself, but I found a recipe and we had frozen blueberries so I proceeded to make them. The first one was a total disaster, but the next few came out reasonably okay if you didn’t mind how they looked. The good news of this story is that my mother ate the whole pancake and liked it.  Given that at this point she hardly ever likes anything, I was SO happy. The happiness of a nourishing “mom,” whose child has not been eating and finally does. That is how it felt. And that is when I thought about how the psyche really does change when one cares for another.

This has been so much the journey that I am on. As my mother has changed, softened and in many ways sweetened, so have I and so has our relationship.  It’s of course challenging, intense and difficult at times but the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. A love has blossomed between us that I would never have thought possible and I live in gratitude for my life that has been forever changed and enriched.

Judy Fox is an artist. She was born in 1947 in New York City. For twenty-five years she worked for a nonprofit educational organization helping with graphic design and overseeing the print production of books and magazines. Previous to that, she taught English as a second language and got seriously involved with Buddhist meditation practice. For many years she worked at retreat centers in the US and UK. This spiritual interest, sparked initially by Buddhist practice, has continued throughout her life manifesting in many different forms.
Over twenty five years ago, she became the primary caregiver for her older brother who was dying of Aids and spent literally eight months by his side. From that experience, she understood the choiceless nature of caring for someone who you love deeply and because of her spiritual background she was able to gain a priceless perspective that helped so much during this very challenging time.
For the past five years, Judy has been helping to care for her 98 year old mom. Two years ago, she started a blog site with her good friend Andrea Hurley called” When the Table Turns” ( where they write heartfelt philosophical essays on the care and love for their elderly moms. Recently they have expanded their contact with other caregivers and started a virtual caregiver’s circle ( They are very excited about this as a way to share and learn with others. They are also honored to be featured in a chapter of Nina Lesowitz and  Mary Beth Sammon’s deeply spiritual book about the power of gratitude called, “The Grateful Life: The Secret to Happiness and the Science of Contentment.” 

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