Being a fulltime caregiver for an elderly loved one can be difficult. Exhausting. Frustrating. Emotional. It also can be sweet. Humbling. Rewarding.
I have learned that support for those caregivers is so needed. It can be lonely and ever so much time consuming. Energy consuming. 20 years ago I watched my saint of a mother care for her parents patiently and lovingly. Night after night she went to help get them ready for bed, then go in the morning to check on them, help with medications and Dr’s appointments. She was always ‘on call’. She was a great example to our family of selfless service. And although she didn’t complain, I was aware of how hard it was on her, the emotional and physical toll it took on her to help them live, and then later to help them pass to the next world with peace and dignity.
As a dear friend now is in that same position with her Mother, I felt a strong prompting to try to help lift her burden, in just a few small ways. The main help was to go to spend time with her mother and provide a break for my friend. Giving her an opportunity to speak to Hospice, arrange for care, go shopping, run errends or exercise at the gym.
The first week was a little awkward, it felt like I was forcing my friendship on her. “Hi! I’m now your new best friend!” 😉 We luckily did know each other and were friends already, but now I was coming to see her every day. She kept asking, “now why are you here?” Or, “where is my daughter going?” I knew that she was feeling depressed and unhappy with her diagnosis of congestive heart failure. She was told that she was terminal. And even though she is 90 years of age, she was not ready to die. But she was told that she was going to so she settled into her recliner and seemed to wait. I hoped that to bring a little sunshine, a smile and something to look forward to, would be the best medicine a friend could provide. A week or so into our visits, we all noticed that she started perking up a bit. She was trying to get up and do a few things and seemed happier. She needed to know that she was important, loved and was not written off. Which no one but the Dr’s had done, but I think she was happy to have a friend, someone she could confide in, do a fun activity with and who would tweeze that hair out of her chin. 🙂
Here are 10 of the best activities that we did together:
1. An easy craft project.
Depending on dexterity, eyesight and so on you will have to find the right project for your friend or loved one. Me and Ms. Scarlet, (so nicknamed for her southern accent, love of the movie “Gone With the Wind”, and sassy ways) started off with card making. It was Valentines day, so I had us make valentines. All she had to do is pull a sticker off the sheet and put it on the card I prepared. She grumbled about not being creative, and how she was going to mess it all up, but I just encouraged her to give it a try, since we were just giving them to friends and family it would be fine. They turned out cute, and I think she felt proud of them. A second time we made cards I found a cute paper that already had sayings on it, I would put tape on the back of the cut paper square and have her place it down on the card. Very easy, and yet it gives one a sense of accomplishment. We also recently painted some terracotta wind chimes with her daughter, which was so fun for me, but what is deemed “fun” is always debatable to Ms. Scarlett. There are plenty of great easy craft projects you could do.
2. No sew fleece blankets.
Fleece is great to make an easy blanket with, the threads don’t unravel when you cut it, so no need to hem. There’s a fun technique where you cut strips into the edge, And tie them into a knot. U-tube it for directions. It’s super easy and fun. We made 2 that were two sided, and made them baby blanket size, and we will give as gifts to new mothers we know. There was much complaining about not doing it right, and what if it is wrong, but I again assured her she couldn’t ever mess it up, we were just tying knots. We had a good laugh at all her attempts to convince me that this project should be protected from her and her “fumble fingers”. Which was funny because she is the reason for the project! She is so afraid to try something new and not being good at it. But I coaxed Her along.
Ms. Scarlett didn’t want a pedicure, although sometimes I give her a foot rub. But she has loved letting me give her manicures. She was a busy working lady all her life and never wore much more than clear nail polish. The first time I painted her nails, she let me put on a soft neutral color. Well, she got so many compliments on her nails, she decided the next time she wanted red! Her daughter was so surprised! So began her love of pretty nails and polish. She absolutely reveled in the compliments she got on her nails! It feels good to get compliments, and I’m sure even more so when you are 90. I polish them every week. She likes it and it gives us something to do. Last week I put sparkles on the tips of her nails and she complained for 4 days until I took it off, she thought it looked like dirt under her nails. I says, “Wow what kind of dirt you been digging in?” 🙂 Ms. Scarlett is always so appreciative of me when I do her nails. She is so surprised that her nails are so long and look so pretty. I love giving her this little thing to feel feminine and beautiful.
We made chocolate covered strawberries. I bought the Giridelli dark chocolate melting wafers. They melt so beautifully and easily in the microwave. No fuss, smooth and rich. I rinsed and she dried the strawberries. Then we dunked away and set them on a plate. We still had chocolate left so we found some peanut butter filled pretzels to throw in there, we called them nutty bunnies. Yum! Sweet and salty! Then we licked the spoons, made jokes of how we couldn’t possibly waste any of this chocolate, laughed and got chocolate on our faces. We had such a good time. And the treats were delicious to boot!
5. Sugar /coconut oil scrub.
This really is so simple. You need a few bowls, a container of coconut oil, a bag of sugar, and some essential oils. We dumped the oil in a big bowl and started adding sugar, Ms. Scarlett stirred. When we thought we had added enough sugar we put it in 3 separate bowls, and added the oils. One with an oil called Balance, another with Serenity, and the last with lemon and grapefruit. Then we spooned it into cute little pink mason jars I found. This will be a gift we can give from us two. She was lots of help spooning into jars and putting on lids. One of her favorite questions for me is, “well what are you doing now?” I’m always up to something. ;p
6. Scrapbooking/life story
Ms. Scarlet had written her life story, but the Scrapbook she made ‘back in the day ‘, was falling apart and not acid free. This has been a project for all three of us, mother and daughter deciding who is who in the photos and organizing, and me making fun pages for the new book. We are using Becky Higgins Project life system and sheet protectors. They have great pockets to slide the photos, journaling and cute accents into. IT makes it so easy and fun! And so much faster. Ms. Scarlett doesn’t seem to get into this project quite as much. I think it’s because her daughter and I talk and she doesn’t get me all to herself. haha! She does get a little melancholy while looking at the photos of loved ones gone and said the other day, “now, it’s times like this that makes me think, why do people have to die?” She lost her own Mother at the age of 5. Her husband in his 50’s, and 2 of her children. She is usually very stoic about these facts, but this day, it hit her.
We have played several games with varying success. Yatzee went pretty well, I just had to tell her what to roll for some of the time. Uno was pretty hilarious! I had to explain the rules EVERY time it was her turn. “Now what do I do?” “Well you can play a 5 of any color, or a blue.” Like I said, patience. She is such a tease, she wanted to know if I made this game up, and said, “I hate this game if I’m gonna LOSE!” But I just laughed inside every time she asked in her cute accent, “now what do I do with a skee-ip?” I let her win. Some people love to do puzzles, Not Ms. Scarlett. She says, “Now, whut is that? You can just put that away right now! Puzzles are not mah thang.” So obviously find their “thing”.
Depending on the person, they may just look at you when you ask about their life and look suspiciously at you, or they may run a long commentary to anyone who will listen! Ms. Scarlett started as the first one. But told me the other day that she didn’t know just why I came along or what she would do without me. That she could tell me anything, all her thoughts and I wouldn’t think she was insane! ( she then glared daggers at her daughter as if she is guilty of thinking her insane) haha! I love our talks. I love finding more about her life, telling her about mine and sharing things that women of all ages understand. We are all the same age inside! We talk about the next life, dying, this life and how hard it can be. How it is hard to rely on other people even just to get dressed. When the weather is nice I try to get her out on the porch to get a little air and sun. I spend a lot of time laughing at her cranky self. I tell her she is such a stinker! And she laughs back because she knows it’s true! She showed me a beautiful bedspread she had made for her daughter that had passed away. It was so gorgeous! She had been telling me for months that she was not artistic and didn’t have a creative bone in her body. And then I saw this!
I told her, I wasn’t trusting her opinion of artistic anymore. It was hand embroidered! The whole thing. And she had hand drawn the pattern by looking at the drapes on the window. P-lease! I could tell she was proud of it. She tried to be self-deprecating about it, but it is obvious that it is amazing, and something to be proud of.
I love to watercolor, and I have a lot of paints. I found at the craft store some cute embossed cards made with watercolor paper. I set up some paint for her in my pallet, and gave her a brush. I wet the paper for her and she brushed on pretty colors and watched then run and spread and make fun patterns. We’ve done this activity a few times. She had no memory of doing it the first time, so we did it again! I figure we can keep doing an activity until she remembers we have already done that one. Haha! You can take a piece of watercolor paper and put pieces of masking tape in crisscrossed lines on the paper. Then take a brush and and wet the paper, either in sections or all at once. Add color and watch it run and Mix It With Other Primary colors. It really is fun for people of all ages! Then take off the tape gently and you have crisp white paper underneath. You can write on it, paint it or leave it. I believe that all people should do things that are creative. It is proven to help release good feeling endorphins. Who doesn’t need a shot of that in their life.
10. Read to them
We have been reading one of my all time favorite books, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. It is sweet, so funny and cute. Most anyone with a heart will love this book. There are so many beautiful stories out there. So many ways to live an adventure in a book. Something lighthearted and fun. We are almost to the end, we will watch the PBS miniseries after we are done. Sometimes she sleeps though the chapter and that’s ok, I’m sure that will happen more often as we near the end. But she loves the company, the soothing sound of my voice and knowing someone is there.
There are so many more things we could do, Plant an herb garden, listen to some favorite old music, make beanbags for a preschool, but these are the ones we have tried and have worked for us. I felt overwhelmed with coming up with things to do at first, but now, she’s even fine if I bring nothing and we just visit, because now she knows I care, that I’m her friend. I give her a hug at the end of my visit, and she says, “Well, I love you. .” and I say, “I love you too sweet girl! ” she says back, “Ya, sure I am. ” 🙂 I always did like a little salty with my sweet.