Caregivers: Just Remember to Breathe.

Debbie Sokobin

Next Chapter News with Debbie

By Debbie Sokobin, JCA Blog Contributor

Caregivers: Just Remember to Breathe.

It is hard to believe that this month is the two-year anniversary of my father’s death. He went through a nine-month roller coaster of oral cancer that he actually beat, only to die of pneumonia before he ever got to take another bite of steak. Life can be cruel.

Because of my mom’s mild cognitive impairment, we knew that she could not live alone in their apartment in Chicago without me or either of my brothers nearby. My husband and I brought her to Rockville where she lived with us for sixteen months. My mom is an incredible person. She maintains her positive outlook and sunny disposition through difficult circumstances: my dad’s illness, my brother’s cancer diagnosis and of course, and being uprooted from the city where she lived her entire life .

I became her constant companion, her “brain”, her chauffeur and her social secretary. It was a juggling act for me as I had launched my Senior Move Management business only ten months prior and was constantly busy. I would bring my mom with me to help wrap dishes and box up simple items like books and photo albums, but only if the client was not at home. She loves having a project and feeling useful! (Don’t we all?) Being able to send her to  JCA’s Kensington Clubs two mornings a week during that time, saved my sanity. I knew while there she would have wonderful social interaction and tremendous stimulation. She loved every minute of it! I also brought in a caregiver three mornings a week (and then four mornings/week). Mary also became a Godsend! It was becoming clear that my mom needed to be somewhere with more daily stimulation and also a place where I was not always wracked with guilt when I left to meet a friend for coffee or to work with a client. My mom had never wandered up to that point, but she always told her friends back in Chicago that she took walks on her own (a fantasy).

Even with my husband working from home most days, it was a stressor when I left her home alone for short periods of time. My parents lived a beautiful life of abundance. By the end of my dad’s life, they had basically no money left. I have often said that the only smart financial decision my father ever made was to continue to pay off their Long-Term Care Insurance policy. After months of fighting with the company (and hiring a geriatric care manager to assist) we got her approved to live in Memory Care. I had begun looking at places near us in Rockville. Our community is so blessed to have a plethora of residential memory care choices. The problem is that my mom has such a high social acuity level that it was very depressing to see the cadre of residents at some of these places. I ultimately chose one of the Brightview’s 2.3 miles from our house. I thought that there was a large enough group of ladies with whom she could interact, and the staff seemed excellent. Now came the hard part. How to make this happen?

My brothers and one sister-in-law came into town for my 60th birthday weekend and to help me through the transition. I couldn’t have done it without all of them (and my incredible husband of course). Remember the part of this essay about my mom being incredibly positive, social and forward thinking? Well thank God for that. I had brought over a suitcase with more of her clothing and keepsakes the day after she moved in. I asked her if she wanted me to help her organize it. Her response was, “Well sure, but then I really should go out and socialize.” She amazes me – even as her memory becomes more and more muddled, she embraces her circumstances, helps out if one of the other residents is struggling. She participates in every single program and while she still expresses missing Chicago she now admits that it would be hard to be there without my Dad.

I still (eight months later) feel a punch in the gut every time I say goodbye to her. It pains me to know that she has lost her independence and is thrown in with peers whose dementia ranges from non-verbal and wheelchair bound to my mom on the high end. It helps that the staff there are excellent and are able to engage the residents at whatever stage they are in their dementia journey. My mom is happy in the moment and getting the stimulation that improves her quality of life tenfold.

My mantra: just breathe Debbie, just breathe.