When I was very young, visiting a grandparent in a nursing home with my parents, I never understood why the families who came would only visit their own family member and ignore the rest, when so many people were so obviously bored and lonely- even crying out for attention or help. I used to make the rounds, trying to at least say hello to everyone.
Later on in my life, in college, I worked as a private caregiver for a family who paid me to visit their mother in the nursing home. I struck up friendships with a few of the more attentive visiting families I ran into there more often. Once I got to know them and their family member, it only seemed right for me to visit all the ladies together, even though I was only being paid by the one family. Maybe this wasn’t the most ethical thing, considering the family paying me had no idea of what a social butterfly I’d become, but it wasn’t long before the other families started reciprocating and giving my client attention when I wasn’t around.
Last night I spontaneously made contact with the daughter of a woman my mother has become best pals with at the memory care unit. They’ve become upset whenever one of them gets to go out with family, and the other gets left behind. They’ve consistently asserted that they feel it’s very unfair, and have been asking for permission to leave together with any of their visitors who may arrive on a given week.
I got the daughter’s number from her mother with dementia (Mom’s pal), so didn’t have a lot of hope that it would work. I was also nervous that she might feel awkward being contacted by a stranger.
It turned out that she was thrilled to speak with me, and she’d been thinking about doing the same thing. She’d been feeling incredibly isolated, as a younger caregiver, like me, with no one to talk to about all these issues that no one quite understands. With her taxing job, she hasn’t been able to get to her mother as much as she’d like, so we made arrangements to stagger our visits, since her best time to visit is weekday lunches, and mine is weekends and later afternoons. We both gave written permission to the facility to let our mothers go out anywhere the other person’s visitors wish to take them.
Not only do our mothers now get to go out with a peer, which they’re more than thrilled about (they get sick of these bossy daughters who have mysteriously gotten too much control over their lives), but this daughter and I have been sharing lots of information about advocacy, financial support from the county, and tips to deal with the managers and caregivers where our mothers reside. They will have twice as many visits, twice the outings, and a lot more fun!
We hope to expand our cooperative caregiving to include other families involved in the memory care center. It’s definitely a win/win situation, and it’s such a nice feeling to know that if one of us gets sick, goes on vacation, or has to be absent for a length of time, our moms won’t be neglected at all.
In some cases, there won’t be any obvious payback. The people you attend to might not have any family, or their loved ones may feel suspicious or guarded and not reciprocate. But in my mind, each little step we can take toward community-building will make this world a little nicer of a place for all of us to live in.