Sunday, October 18, 2009

Eldercare Choices: Stop the Guilt Trips

Another Sunday when I wonder why I listen to Boletín Católico. Today the topic is putting seniors in nursing homes. Fr. Hoyos expresses the same old anti-nursing home arguments I've heard from other priests. Those of us who cannot care for our aging parents at home are made to feel guilty for choosing to put them in long term care facilities, that somehow we are ungrateful children for not "making the sacrifice", for not caring for our parents in our homes the way they cared for us.

This kind of guilt trip really makes me angry. I suppress the urge to call the radio station and scream: "Who are you to judge us? You are a celibate priest with lots of married brothers and sisters. You will never be the primary caregiver for your elderly father. Try having him live with you for a month in the rectory, having to bathe him, put diapers on him, listen to him tell stories that make no sense, worry about whether or not he will get confused and wander away, and then you will have the authority to judge us. Until then, just shut up!"

"Explain to the bishop why you have to miss an important meeting because the home health aide didn't show up to be with dad. And all those preaching engagements overseas you accept each year? Those are history when you become a caregiver. And because of your vow of poverty, you are probably not even expected to contribute to your father's caregiver's salary."

But I don't call. I turn off the radio after 20 minutes of this stuff to take a deep breath, get myself together to go to church and then to visit my mother in her assisted living facility.

For many years I cared for her in her own apartment. Every Saturday I shopped for her, cooked and brought over vegetarian dishes she liked in individual portions that she could reheat when she was no longer able to cook, bathed her, washed her clothes and cleaned. If I was sick or the weather was bad, I still had to come over because without me she had nothing to eat. For all those years I never took a full week of vacation.

Eventually I had to move her into assisted living -- after she no longer remembered to heat and eat the food I brought over, after I found her sitting naked in the bathtub when the building manager had to let me in because she did not come to the door of her unit because she had tried to bathe herself and did not have the strength to get out of the tub.

Today, my mother's care aides make sure she eats regularly and bathes. They also help her in and out of her wheelchair and change her diapers. I don't have to worry about what will happen to her if I'm sick or out of town.

She is declining mentally and sometimes I think that if she were with me, she might do better. Sometimes I think about leaving my job, renting an apartment for the two of us and taking care of her full-time. Of course, I would have to end most of my church and political activities...and vacations?....

But why do I feel a need to explain this? You and all the other celibate male (surveys have shown that 59-75% of non-professional family caregivers in the US are women) priests who heap guilt on those of us who have had to put our parents in institutions will never get it. The next time you talk about this subject it should only be to thank God for the people who are caring for your father so you don't have to.

1 comment:

  1. Elderly care is a serious concern, especially in this countrie's life style. We all would like to take care of our beloved ones until their last breath, but some times is very difficult depending on their physical and mental condition. The health and needs of the family care giver have to be taken into consideration also.
    I remember the case of my paternal grandmother; she lived until 90, 91 and almost droved my aunt to the hospital. She had a mild case of Alzheimer but was physically strong; my aunt cared for her until the end when she and my father and uncle were at the point of making the decision to put her in assisted care to save my aunt’s sanity.
    My maternal grandparents put themselves in assisted living (a nice and affordable place then) when they really didn’t need it yet, but even at the dismay of my mother, who got depressed because of that, my grandfather had the foresight to see what could happened in the future. Years later he died quickly, but my grandmother lingered sick for a long time and it would have been impossible for my mother and her sister, to care for her at home.

    Love is what counts. If you must commit a beloved one to assisted living, make sure that you visit them often, show your love and affection for this person, take them out home once in awhile if is possible and be there as much as possible for them. Many times there is “heavy lifting to do”, either be physical, medical or mental and should be left to the professionals.
    If you love and care, no guilt whatsoever should be cause of remorse.