Nora had been experiencing horrific side pain from a recurrence of shingles. At age 93 she was debilitated and moved from her lifelong home to a skilled-nursing facility. She appeared to be deteriorating so her nephew, Tom – Nora healthcare proxy – thought it was best to have her transported to the ER and determine if there were any reversible causes. Was she dehydrated? Did she have a urinary infection?
The emergency staff descended on Nora like vultures, slapping a blood pressure cuff on her arm, sticking her with needles, and asking more questions than she could answer. It was like awakening from a dream state and living a nightmare. Nora was given the impression that something was wrong with her and she had to get better. Nora wasn’t buying it, but she acquiesced to her nephew’s wishes.
Nora received IV fluids and had a catheter placed to obtain urine. Her laboratory studies confirmed that she was dehydrated and her urinalysis and chest x-ray were negative for any infection. Nora was cleared to return to her skilled-nursing facility for continued pain management. Nora was dumbfounded by all the fuss being made about her and why she couldn’t be left alone.
Winter is the perfect time for caregivers to reflect upon the lives of their loved ones and what matters most them. These five images will give you solace for a long winter’s nap:
When snow blankets the earth, time stands still. Nature has the incredible ability to white-wash everything and the first snowfall is spectacular. Slipping, sliding and falling are to be expected . . . just as the aging process. Seniors often test the limits of what they can do while caregivers tend to be overly concerned about any illness or injury.
If Nora had been wrapped in a snow-white blanket, sunlight would have reflected upon her brilliantly. Tom and the skilled nurses would have been blinded by this light. Instead, Nora wore a patient gown that made her appear like a target that was fair game to shoot arrows at.
We all have to slow down and take it easy when it snows – becoming more respectful and less aggressive. Icy conditions often keep people frozen in place and limit priorities. Caregivers need to remember to only do what is absolutely necessary when it snows.
An ornament is a keepsake – perhaps a family heirloom – reminding you of a story: a previous trip together, a special occasion, a treasured gift. A collection of ornaments reflects a lifetime of memories. Ornaments, like loved ones, are often cherished and called to remember each winter.
Tom was close to Nora, but felt estranged from her after she fell ill. Like many caregivers, Tom was unsure how Nora was to be treated. If Nora were considered a cherished ornament, she would have been treated delicately. Respecting her wishes would’ve come naturally.
Ornaments are a reminder of the lyric, “Through the years we all will be together.” Like loved ones, ornaments are not here today and gone tomorrow. They stand the test of time, remind us of special memories and are cherished possessions.
During the winter solstice, the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky – the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Metaphorically, this occurs near the end of life. The elderly often go to bed early and stay in bed longer, reflecting their interest in not doing more than they have to.
Tom didn’t stop to consider, “What’s in Aunt Nora’s best interest?” He felt compelled to do things for her own good and prolong her days. He was working against her better nature and Mother Nature.
Winter night skies vividly reflect the expanse of the universe, triggering an interest in life beyond the Moon and the planets. As a caregiver, do you welcome these thoughts? Is it okay for your loved one to board the starship Enterprise and journey to the final Frontier?
A fir tree is just a fir tree . . . until Christmas decorations adorn it. Then it becomes special: “Oh Tanenbaum!” An evergreen symbolizes constancy and faithfulness through every season. Its branches reflect the outreach it has upon the world, similar to lives your loved one has touched.
Tom lacked the capacity to view Aunt Nora as “evergreen.” By believing there was something wrong with her, he allowed her to be treated against her will. It takes a reflective caregiver to always see the good in his or her patient.
Caregiving also has an evergreen component: being faithful through good times and bad, sickness and health, summer and winter. The strength of these vows becomes the pledge of allegiance to not allow your loved one to suffer at the end.
Resolutions beget new beginnings and stars by looking at the “Man (Caregiver) in the Mirror – asking him to change his ways.” Michael Jackson’s lyrics reflect a powerful resolution that caregivers have to make. Like most people, a caregiver is “a victim of a selfish kind of love” the he or she might perpetuate. Caregivers naturally struggle with letting go of loved ones.
Tom needed to change the way he was caring for his aunt. Others may have offered him this resolution, but die he listen? If he wanted to make the end of life peaceful for Nora, he needed to ”take a look at himself and make a change.”
Wintertime’s purpose to show empathy to the dying. As a caregiver, “who are you to be so blind – pretending not to see your loved one’s needs” or to know his or her wishes? When you take a look at yourself and get a feel for the situation, you resolve to move beyond the “silent disregard” and act in the best interest of your loved one.
Wintertime peace if felt by snuggling in a blanket, letting bygones be bygones and allowing the warmth of friends and family to embrace where you are in the present moment. It seems crazy to travel too far from home at this time of life.
There’s a reason Christmas occurs during winter. We all need this holiday to serve as a as a reminder to embrace one another with tidings of comfort and joy. The culmination of family caregiving occurs during the holiest of nights – only you can make it feel mystical, magical and sacred.