How does one provide care for a loved one who lives long-distance, in this case 3,500 km away? That question came to a head for me a few weeks ago, when my mother, who has been becoming increasingly immobile and unsafe in her home, for many months and perhaps years, asked for my help.
I was fortunate to be able to say, ‘yes’. I made plans for my family in my absence, and flew to Ontario to be with my mother for a few days. I knew that this journey was going to end with my mother moving into an assisted living residence.
You can care give from afar by providing more than a physical presence. In caring for my mother, this has meant regular phone calls, to learn what was really going on for her, and how it affected her activities of daily living, and conference calls with my brothers to share information and make plans for future care.
For a few years now, my mom and the large part of the burden for her care has fallen on my two brothers, who live close by. I am very fortunate that they are near, but they also need my support, and perhaps I too need to provide more support, to assuage the feelings of guilt I have had in not been able to share the load.
This is what I have learned along the journey.
As a long distance caregiver, you can provide care and emotional support from afar through phone calls and encouraging cards and notes. You can help arrange meals, transportation, recreation and day care programs, and coordinate rides with family and friends to appointments or social events. You can update family and friends on the status of your loved one. I found that this eased the burden on my brothers, and was fulfilling, as it allowed me to use the skills I have developed in communication, empathy, and compassion. You can also help with the household finances, bill-paying, and insurance benefits and claims. On the care side of things, you can help arrange for housekeepers, personal support workers, home health care aids, friendly visitors, and other health care professionals to be brought in. In essence, you can help your loved one navigate the system by providing them with local information and resources, and you also can enlist the help of family and friends.
In my instance, this help came from a gentle and patient family member, in whose company my mother did not feel judged. The initial houseclean and haul out of garbage, recycling and items for the Salvation Army and Church Bazaar, was met with more requests for help through a dear family friend. It was very interesting for me to watch the transformation of my mother’s behaviour, from being so attached to her home and its contents, to being accepting of change, and then asking for help, in order to ready herself, physically and emotionally, to leave her home.
When I arrived in Ontario, I saw my role as continuing with the cleaning and pack up process that had begun, while trying to make things fun, reliving memories while pouring over old family photos, and also making new memories. Sharing memories helped draw us together, and provided us with much needed strength and support.
My mother is almost ready to move into her new home. She has the security of knowing that she can take weekly visits back to her town home, before it is sold, to ensure she is leaving no stone or forgotten treasure unturned, and to say goodbye, in her time and at her pace. When we speak on the phone, she never forgets to thank me for coming, and still jokes that she ‘wore me out’. This experience we shared, fraught with vulnerability, definitely brought my mother and me closer together.
As a wise person once said, ‘information is the best prescription and laughter really is one of the best medicines’.
By guest blogger, Kathryn Seely, former nurse, mother, daughter and caregiver