In this second part we’ll look at the In-Between stage. For caregivers it is the space between what was and what will be. Suzanne Braun Levine calls this space the Fertile Void and describes it as, “the long, slow, deep breath -the gathering in of strength - that precedes a daring leap into the unknown.”
Some of the best stories I've heard came from my grandparents. Sometimes these were made-up tales - bits of fiction to entertain small children - but other times they were gifts of memories, personal or family histories, things that make us who we are.
As caregivers, we must be aware that the people we support often react to the change of seasons with heightened emotions. When my grandmother was first sliding into dementia, the simple act of packing away her summer clothes and bringing out her warmer winter wardrobe would make her anxious. Where were her belongings going, and would she get them back?
Then it happens; your loved one is admitted to the hospital and decisions need to be made about whether to go on to a care home or perhaps hire in-home care.
Still, as I try to be as ruthless as possible with deciding what to store until we find a new house, what to bring with us for the month or two we'll be staying with my mother, and what to sell or give away, what I remember is all the ways Mom helped Grandma find comfort and a sense of home in a house that wasn't hers, and I thought I'd share them here, because it's something many of us will experience as our own parents age.
It's a dilemma we all have as the people we love age, move out of their homes and into ours (or care homes) and eventually die. On the one hand, those family treasures are imbued with a ton of meaning. On the other, they're just things, and keeping a clock or a table or even my stepfather's collection of science and match textbooks doesn't make my memories any stronger, just as donating or selling these things won't diminish them.
Going to the beach, then, became something of an adventure. We had to pack extra clothing and hygiene products (we were all in California by then, and unlike New Jersey, the beaches there don't all have restrooms and changing cabanas). Of course, we were all well trained in the art of changing behind towels held up by whoever was with you, but after my grandmother's hip replacement, she needed a wheelchair, and that made things a bit more complicated.
As a caregiver, you're naturally a nurturing person. Use that trait to your advantage when selecting a side hustle. For example, you might start a child or pet care business. If you’ve got a green thumb, you can always take on some lawn maintenance jobs in your neighbourhood. Lastly, if you have experience with things like coding or graphic design, you can find freelancer jobs that allow you to work from home.
There is nothing wrong with going to the beach or having a family picnic on Memorial Day. My grandfather, who died when I was twenty-one, often reminded us that he and his compatriots fought for our right to have those parties and picnics. However, it's important to remember that this holiday has a somber element. We are meant to remember the military officers - fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings – in our family. We are meant to honor their service. We are meant to tell their stories.
Just as people who stutter are often encouraged to sing to help their speech flow more freely, singing or playing music makes memories flow and allows conversations to happen more easily. When an elderly relative or someone with cognitive impairment can't remember or can't find words to speak, playing music or singing together can help the memories flow. Singing a favorite "oldie" like Elvis's "Love me Tender" might trigger memories of first loves while playing classical pieces might spark conversations about anything from weddings to concerts.