The hardest but most rewarding job ever

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Lora Worthan, California

As my mother-in-law’s primary caregiver, I spend a minimum of 75 hours a week with her. On the bad weeks it can be as much as 120 hours. She was diagnosed with dementia less than two years ago and has required 24/7 care since January.

Aside from knowing that the faces are familiar, she does not know five of her seven children. The youngest daughter is now “the woman” who comes to clean the house. The eldest son is “some man” who shows up and brings her dinner. His attempts to communicate with her are met with extreme agitation which ends in vocal outbursts telling him to get out of her house.

The middle son, my husband, is someone different to her depending on the day. Sometimes he is just Michael, my husband. Some days he is her brother. And sometimes, this one is hard, she thinks he is her boyfriend. Maybe because she is living in the past and he reminds her of his father.

She needs assistance with almost everything. We are fortunate that on the days she can stand we can still get her to the toilet. She is a severe fall risk. When she is anxious or agitated she forgets she can’t walk alone but tries to get up anyway — every two minutes. For this reason the only time we leave her alone in a room is while she is asleep with a baby monitor right beside her. She is still living in her own home, so this adds to her caregivers’ responsibilities.

I am her primary caregiver, but I am not in this alone. My husband’s three sisters take turns staying with her overnight. I do not leave until one of them arrives, and they stay with her until I return the following morning. I have Sunday nights, and Monday thru Friday 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. The three daughters take care of Monday thru Friday nights and Saturday nights are rotated equally between the four of us.

The sons were sharing in the caregiving until she became afraid to be left alone with any man. Lately, she has developed a pattern of staying awake for three days and then sleeping for two. After not sleeping for three days she becomes so weak she can’t walk. During the three days she can’t sit still. She is very anxious and tries to shred anything she can get her hands on. She is delusional and she hallucinates, talking to people who are not there. She is still living in her home, but she does not remember it is her home. Every time she comes out of the bedroom she is in a new place.

I have decided that after this experience, I possess the qualifications for almost any job. I am a chef, a personal shopper, a nurse, a dog sitter/groomer, a chauffer, an event planner, a secretary, a housekeeper, a therapist. I do lawn maintenance, laundry, income taxes, and I shampoo carpets. I give manicures, pedicures, and facials and I cut and color hair.

The one thing I am not is her daughter-in-law. Now I have become her best friend. Just when I think I cannot continue another moment, she will grab me, hug me tight, tell me she loves me and that she loves it when I am there. Like I said, the hardest but most rewarding job ever. My primary goal is for her to leave this earth with all her dignity intact and knowing that she is loved. If you know a caregiver, let them know they are appreciated.