My mom has lived on her own since my dad died in 2017, first in a seniors’ retirement community, now in her own condo. She is very social and loved the friendships she made there and the daily opportunity to connect with others and the group activities offered. However, she missed grocery shopping and cooking.
Her heritage is Italian and she loved to make sauce and meatballs for spaghetti or breaded veal cutlets and huge green salads for our family meals. Once my sister and I got married and moved out, she continued cooking for my dad and her and we’d pick up the extra sauce and meatballs to have during the week.
Mom also takes pride in being independent and not putting any pressure on her children to take care of her now that my dad is gone. She just turned 80, and while she is mobile and able to do for herself, she suffers chronic pain from spinal stenosis. My struggle has always been how to care for someone who is so self-sufficient.
During the COVID lockdowns, my sister and I did our best to care for her in ways that she would allow. She formed a social bubble with my sister and her daughters, so they enjoyed Sunday dinners together. My mom looked forward to and cherished those few hours with her family even though all of us could not attend.
Many times, she would make the entire dinner and transport it to my nieces’ place, leaving them with food for the week. That was their way of caring for her. She doesn’t like to be taken care of, but loves to take care of her family. So they let her and that made her happy. She felt needed and purposeful.
Initially, I dropped groceries to her and meals during those first unknown months of the pandemic. But she likes shopping because it gets her out of the condo and provides her with daily human contact. She didn’t want me to do groceries for her anymore. She did, however, let me run other errands for her and drive her to the occasional appointment.
Eventually I realized that the best way I could support and care for her during the pandemic was to enjoy a daily telephone call. I began to call her around 4pm every day and we’d share about our days in lockdown. She’d tell me who she had spoken with that day and what she was watching on tv. I am now caught up on all the soap operas I have not watched since I left home and am familiar with all the talk show host and their guests.
A few times between lockdowns, I would visit with her and just sit on the couch beside her watching along with her. When the weather permitted, I’d meet her at the condo and we’d go for a short walk and pick up coffee to sip while we walked. I also sent her “thinking of you” cards in the mail, knowing how she loves to send them to others herself. They brightened her day. Recently, she took out a stack of cards she had received over the course of the pandemic and told me how she looks at them and rereads them all the time.
My understanding of caring has broadened over the last year with this pandemic. Caring for another can look like “doing” different jobs to help a family member cope on a daily basis with the many things that need to be done in a day.
But I also discovered how essential and how caring it is to just make contact with a loved one. My mom is hard to care for. She doesn’t want others fussing over her. She has always identified as the caregiver and may never be ready to give up that role.
So I let go of needing “care” to look a certain way in our relationship. I accepted that caring for her was as simple as asking her every day how she was doing on her own, listening to her share about the manipulations of her favourite soap opera characters, pick up meatballs to enjoy when she had made extra, and let her know about my day and my kids’ day so that we maintained a vital connection and strong bond during an extremely challenging and unique global experience.
All caregiving stories matter. Are you willing to share yours? Whether at the giving end of things or the receiving end–we want to hear from you. Just email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.