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Read Barbara's Previous Articles

March 3, 2008
Redefining 'Service' in Caregiving Terms

February 18, 2008
Amidst Caregiving’s Demands, Taking 22 Minutes to Witness a Life

January 21, 2008
Planning for the Last Days of a Loved One’s Life

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Posted: March 17, 2008

Family Caregiving

Creating Memories by Routinely Avoiding the Everyday Routine

Routine is one of the cornerstones of caregiving. Routine supports us, soothes us, and enables us to have predictability and constancy in our often topsy-turvy lives.

For many elders, routine also becomes paramount. It is often important not to vary certain parts of the day, to maintain the routine. Morning and evening routines, as well as schedules for medical needs, provide a supportive structure that is critical for both the caregiver and the elder.

At the same time, it is essential that the caregiver encourage an environment where daily routines do not represent the entire experience. That’s so important.

When my two boys were young children, we closed out the day at bedtime by answering the question, “What was your favorite part of the day?” Often their answers included something routine, such as reading a book before bed, or a conversation we had around the dinner table. Frequently, though, they would mention something special that had occurred which I may not even have noticed.

At the end of each day, regardless of our age, we can reflect on what was memorable about today. What made this day different? What was special that I can I talk about? For the caregiver, this perspective opens vast opportunities to create. What memories can I create today?

Near the end of my father’s life, after he had pulled out his feeding tube, we scheduled a meeting at the nursing home to discuss next steps. My husband, Don, and I arrived early to spend time with Dad. Aware that he had been inside the hospital for all of his 20-day stay, we rolled him into the courtyard to feel the fresh air he loved so dearly.

In the garden, we observed some bunnies hopping about in the morning mist. Don managed to pick up one of the bunnies and placed it on Dad’s lap. Then he put Dad’s hand gently on the bunny’s back. We moved his wheelchair out from under the eave so he could feel the rain on his face while he petted the bunny. My father was a seize-the-day kind of man. That day, we had rain and a rabbit available to connect him to the outdoors.

For me this moment was about honoring my dad and his ever-present joy of living. He loved all of nature, the elements, and experiencing the moment. As I reflect back, our gesture felt exactly right, knowing that an hour and a half later, with Dad’s participation, we made the decision that it was time to take him home to die.

For many, taking care of an elder is also taking care of a patient, who may also be a family member. As I interact with families who are caregiving, I am always interested to see how they are honoring the person, not just the patient. I know that when I become an elder, I will want conversations to be with me rather than about me. I’ll definitely want to hear about something more than medicine, movements, and Metamucil.

Finding fresh ways to create memories shouldn’t be an additional chore on your list. Once you start, you’ll discover that it brightens your own day, too. When my mother was living with us, we wanted to capture all the moments we could. One morning, for example, I noticed a gorgeous sunrise with a pink backdrop silhouetting the puffy white clouds. I quickly rearranged the living room furniture so Mom and I could take in this particular vista. We silently sipped our coffee, watching the sun come into view. Mom loved moments of quiet companionship. When I see that kind of sunrise now, I call it a Norma Sunrise, after her. As you can see, it isn’t just the elder who benefits from the memories that are created. I am comforted each time I can greet a pink-backdrop-puffy-white-cloud sunrise with, “Hi Mom.”

Later, when I was providing respite care for Mae and Loyd, I discovered they LOVED cranberry sauce. If I served cranberry sauce with a meal or put on a side dish or two, Mae would exclaim, “This is just like Thanksgiving!” Because Mae had loved to cook and provide meals for her family, time at the dinner table was one of her most valued parts of the day. Often, when I tucked her into bed, she would say, “Thank you for the wonderful Thanksgiving dinner.”

Special moments in a day needn’t be major events. A single flower, a pleasant aroma, a favorite song, a flock of birds in flight, or a simple dish of sauce can suffice. Appreciating the smallest moments in the company of the elder can create lasting memories for both of you.

Tending to Mom, I resolved to live a full life to the end of my days, a life that is interesting, varied, and filled with fascinating people and rich relationships. I am hopeful that whoever will be caring for me finds ways to help me seize moments in every day and create answers to the question, “What was your favorite part of the day?”

Send your questions and comments to Barbara Bernard at Barbara is an experienced family elder-caregiver, writer and public speaker living in Eagle River, Alaska. Within a single week in 2001, both of Barbara’s parents were diagnosed with a terminal illness. Barbara and her family cared for both of them at home in the months preceding death. Her reflections from this period were the inspiration for her book, The Secret Gift: Growth in Times of Loss, first published in 2005.

© 2008 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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