What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Becoming a family caregiver was never on my bucket list. I didn’t know it was a job description, and I had much grander ideas of how I was going to save the world. Apparently, life had different plans for me and, as the oldest daughter, I fell into caregiving for my mother as dementia required her to have more care. To be fair, she didn’t believe she needed our help, but my siblings and I were concerned about her safety. We decided that she should move in with my husband and myself and at 88, she was fit, active and looked amazing. She had a wonderful male companion and they had spent many happy hours camping, fishing, and travelling. She didn’t look or act like she needed a caregiver, but her memory was quietly declining, and she couldn’t hide it any longer. It was a trying time as we were suddenly in a position of having to make decisions for Mom. We knew it was not what she had truly desired, but felt it was the best choice. It was like being on a crazy teeter totter, trying to balance what she needed while trying to create stability for myself.  

Looking back on this time, I wonder about the emotions that played into our decision to move her to Fernie and then into an independent suite at Rocky Mountain Village. Was it love, fear, obligation, guilt, worry, sense of duty, need for control, compassion or a complex combination?

I remember trying to be accommodating while also promoting her independence when she moved in with us. I had lovely rainbow dreams of her living happily in our suite, making new friends, going to the senior center, and having a sunny new life. I didn’t take into account that she had never wanted to do these things before, and at her age she wasn’t about to start.  

She didn’t need new friends because she had our full-time attention, and she didn’t like to be around those “old” people. 

We didn’t always agree, and it would create conflict as both of us tried to be “the mother.” I would insist she should wear a hat when we were heading outside, and she would tell me to do up my coat. Of course, I wouldn’t zip up my coat and she would never wear a hat.  

These small rebellions and our attempts to control each other sound humorous now, but they pushed me to the edge. We had lots of laughter and fun together, but I would cry alone in my bedroom and console myself with popcorn. My very patient husband spent hours bending over jigsaw puzzles with her, while I tried to navigate this new life. I loved my mother, but I was trying to control her health and happiness in unhealthy ways. Without even realizing it, I had slipped on the very heavy coat of the unrecognized, unpaid family caregiver. 

My mom had been a devoted, loving mother and would have done anything for her children. I felt obligated and duty bound to look after her like she had cared for us, but I was often frustrated, angry, and resentful. If I was short tempered with her, I would feel guilty and full of remorse for being such an ungrateful daughter. At the same time however, I was also filled with love, concern, and anticipatory grief as we travelled the long goodbye of dementia. Even with the support of my amazing doctor, family, and friends, I was overwhelmed and finally reached out to the Caregivers Network. 

Mom’s compassionate nursing background had taught us how to be natural, loving caregivers. Her fears and insecurities as she felt her memory decline inspired me to be brave. She gave me the courage 
to be her steadfast advocate, to face the difficult questions, to navigate the medical system, and to be honest. Being someone who could be counted on was one of her guiding principles and instilled a strong sense of duty in us. By honestly acknowledging that caregiving could bring out both my best and worst behaviours helped me to understand that she was having a difficult time as well. I was able to find humour in the situation and treat her with kindness, love and respect. It was an honour and a privilege to be my mother’s caregiver and today I am grateful for that complex journey. 

So, what’s love got to do with it? 

According to one of my good friends… EVERYTHING!

The Elk Valley Caregiver support group meets in Fernie at Mugshots the 4th Wednesday of the month at 3:15pm. For more info visit caregiversnetworkek.com or email Info@caregiversnetworkek.com

Confidential Toll free line: 1-877-489-7044
Facebook: Caregivers Network for East Kootenay Seniors 

Marianne Agnew, Elk Valley Caregiver Support Facilitator pineconelodge5305@gmail.com