A caregiver must take on all the responsibilities both large and small of daily living. All the shared tasks are now yours alone. From financial matters to today’s dinner and everything in between all are now on your shoulders. In addition there is the need to be always mindful of the special needs of your loved one. Caring for your loved one is job one. As example just last week my Bert put the kettle on for what would turn out to be the last time.
Both Bert and I are tea drinkers. In our couple’s language when one asks: “Would you like a cup of tea”, it actually means, “I would like a cup of tea. Are you going to join me?” The answer is invariably: “Yes.” Putting the kettle on has been one of the little chores Bert loves to perform. He feels he is ‘helping’ me. So last week the conversation began as per usual with Bert asking the question.
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
“OK I will put on the water.” Two minutes later:
“The water is in the kettle. It is on the stove. I do not know which dial to turn on.”
It takes an enormous effort to remain calm as I get up and go to the kitchen with my Bert, trying not to hurry or show my panic. I look at the stove. The kettle is sitting on a large unlit burner. Thank goodness.
“Oh, love. See. The kettle goes on here. It’s already plugged in. Soon the water will boil.”
In my head the conversation goes like this: “Holy crap. If he had turned on the burner under the electric kettle it would melt it and if I was not here he could have burnt the whole place down.” I am appalled. I am shaking inside. I really need that cup of tea now.
Bert: “Oh. I forgot. That is bad. I am a bad boy.”
I smile. “Yes. You forgot. That’s nothing to worry about. You are not a bad boy. You are my honey, and we are going to have tea.”
“You have to make the tea.”
“Sure, I’ll make the tea.”
Internally I am thinking: “You better believe it. No more tea making duties for you, my love.” I sigh.
I reach for the cookie tin, put it on the table and say: “Here are your favourite cookies. Take out some to go with the tea.” Ah, I think, he can still ‘help’ me as going forward my Bert can get the cookies while I make the tea.
“OK” he says as he puts cookies on a plate
My heart rate is slowly coming down. Things are back on track. My Bert will have his tea and cookies and has already forgotten that he wanted to put the electric kettle on the stove to heat the water. I am already formulating my answer for the next time he asks: “Do you want some tea?” I will answer yes, as usual but will add: “I will make it for both of us and you can get the cookies.”
I am happy I remained calm. I was reassuring not censorious. It could have been so demeaning, chaotic and upsetting to both of us if I had shouted out something like: “Are you crazy? That is an electric kettle. You could’ve burnt down the place….” I would have had a spouse with dementia having an anxiety attack or worse, and for the rest of the day and maybe longer I would have been berating myself for ‘losing it.’
The Meander: Being careful to reassure, to be calm, to reduce anxiety over any situation great or small is another talent caregivers learn and develop over time. It is not easy but by acquiring that skill we help not only our loved ones but ourselves as well. Sure, the situation could have ended very badly, but it didn’t. We carers learn to look at the bright side…and there is always a bright side.