Caring for an elderly parent and finding joy in the meantime
One of my friends recently had to pack up her London flat, pack in her job and move back to Canada to care for her elderly mother. I’ve been chatting to Alexia a lot recently via email and suggested she write down her experience for That’s Not My Age; as caring for parents and loved ones is a challenge that many of us have (or will have) to face. I’m hoping that Alexia will provide updates of her ‘Finding Joy in the Meantime’ project, as and when, and she’s promised to send a photo, too (last week she was busy going to and from hospital appointments with her mum and so I’ve used an image of Samira Mohyeddin – see below):
A little over a year ago my mother got diagnosed with cancer and I became her full-time carer. What got us through, and continues to do so, are the little moments of grace and joy in the everyday. Don’t get me wrong, it has come at the price of a lot of tears, frustration, tantrums and trauma, but it is the recognition of how lucky we are to have this time that always brings it back to the positive.
“It’s good that you can still laugh about things,” said a nurse to me, when my mother was suffering from chemo-induced pneumonia. “I laugh so I won’t cry,” I told her. And we continue to laugh at home. We laugh at absurd things on the news, or at absurd people. We’ve been bonding over our mutual love of the 90s sitcom Friends.
While recently promoting her new book – Dead People Suck – comedian Laurie Kilmartin, spoke about finding humour while caring for her dying father. She would secretly record entire conversations between her parents – some up to two hours at a time. The mundaneness of their relationship-dynamic was both funny and, eventually, precious. I’ve started recording my mother. I’ve recorded her voicemail to me singing ‘happy birthday’ and, en route to a hospital visit, I taped her and my uncle bursting into a classic tune from the old country (my mother is Greek). They won’t win any Grammies but, boy, it does make me smile.
In her mini-documentary Operation Good Times broadcast journalist Samira Mohyeddin, affirms the joy of musical participation when she turned her father’s hospital room into ‘Studio 54’. To paraphrase, “there was a lot of singing, and a lot of dancing and a lot of drugs [pharmaceuticals]…” Music is life affirming and an instant joy magnet, evident when room 346 became a respite hub for others on the hospital floor.
I’ve found a new purpose in asking questions: ones that I have always wanted answers to, or anticipate wanting to ask when she is gone. I am discovering who my mother really is as a person – outside her identity as my father’s wife, and the mother I thought I knew as a child. I’ve learned that she loves art and movies as much as I do. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at her dry sense of humour and have learned that she is impatient about untidiness but infinitely patient with her pain.
So, I intend to record her adventures during an impoverished, war-time childhood – which I am constantly asking her to repeat (they are funnier than the description implies). I guffaw at her spontaneous, out-of-tune singing. I rub her aching limbs, happy to soothe her through touch. I ask for a lot of hugs and I hold her hand. That is how I’ve found joy in the meantime.
Alexia Economou is a design and culture journalist @thedesignfeedTW