aging in place, caregivers support, Caring for a parent, paid caregivers, Self-care

A Cog in the Wheel: the return of a caregiver

I am stardust. I am golden. I got Michelle back.

Mama was sure there was a better caregiver “out there” when the perfect storm blew in late in January, so she was relieved when Michelle left—permanently—at Mama’s invitation soon after she arrived that day. “I didn’t fire her,” Mama kept insisting. It was a fine distinction.

Four caregivers later, she realized perfection doesn’t exist, but Michelle’s qualities (that she adored Mama, knew her idiosyncrasies, and was “clean in the kitchen”—a little OCD in my opinion, but it’s not about me) made up for what she lacked (that she wasn’t a five-star cook and she took too much initiative—translation: Mama felt a loss of control when Michelle did something that wasn’t on The List, but needed to be done).

Push came to shove early this month when Mama figured out what she had been smelling in her current caregiver’s car since her first day of employment: she has three dogs and they ride in the car; and four school-aged children. Mama’s “allergic.” (I’m not clear if, when she tells people that, she is implying she is allergic to children, as well as dogs.) She is sure now that’s what has caused the eye irritation she has struggled with since January. That the caregiver and her car didn’t start until March has no bearing, she likes to have a reason that is not related to being old. We went to the eye doctor yesterday, for the sixth time in six months. An allergy was a theory a while back, but now the doctor is quite sure it’s a blocked tear duct. (That was my WebMD theory, boo yah!) I expect Mama will stick to the allergy theory; and now that clean Michelle is back, she will take the copious watering in stride. Whatever it takes.

Rebecca and I knew it was time to look for another caregiver, and I had contacted the Agency for the Aging for resources. But on a whim, I called Michelle. Mama has tearily said several times she wished she could have Michelle back. I knew company policy dictated that when there is an altercation—a non-firing firing—the agency, in protection of the caregiver, does not allow reemployment. It also seemed unlikely Michelle was available. But why leave the stone unturned.

Michelle was available, looking for a morning client in fact. But, she reminded me, she was not allowed to come back. “Hypothetically,” I pushed, “if you could would you want to? And if you wanted to, do you think there’s a way around the policy?” I told her things would be different: that I would be more involved and Mama would just have to be okay with that; that in some sense, she would work for me not for Mama. She said she would think about it over the weekend and call the supervisor on Monday.

The call came at 9am Monday morning: Michelle wanted to try and the supervisor was hesitantly agreeable to a two-week trial. Rebecca and I sat down with Mama two days before her birthday and gave her the news. Speaking of copious tears. The best EVER birthday present. We celebrated together. It was the best ever gift for all of us. And we scheduled time the next day to talk about what would be different to make the relationship successful.

The conversation went better than I anticipated. “We are a team,” I told her, “You, me, Rebecca, Michelle, and Dan (the handyman). We are working together to make you and me able to be here.” I explained I would be checking in with Michelle and she with me on a regular basis: “It is,” I told her, “a condition of the rule waiver.” (Sometimes rules come in handy in unexpected ways.) “Try to think of Michelle as a companion, a member of the team, rather than an employee,” I suggested.

“If you want to sit on the deck and just tell stories,” Rebecca said, “let that be okay. We want you to have as much joy in your life as possible. You don’t always have to have a task list.” Whew, that one is hard for Mama. Pay someone to help you be happy? A squandering of money. Maybe that’s why she would never see a therapist for her chronic depression.

“But I’m spending your inheritance,” she cried. “I’ve lived too long.”

“It’s not our inheritance until you’re gone,” I said. “It’s your money to spend on your care. And besides, you have held onto and cared for this property for us; that is our inheritance. If we can keep you here, it makes us happy.”

Michelle started on Monday with Rebecca as witness: “There was lots of hugging and crying,” she reported.

I saw Michelle this morning for the first time and checked in with her. “How’s it going?” I asked.

“Really well,” Michelle said; “she’s different, really different. She’s much kinder. And she isn’t micromanaging. She goes to the living room and sits in her chair while I clean up the kitchen, rather than hovering to make sure I do it right. Everything is great. I know it might not last just this way; but I’m in a better place, too, and I think I’m back in it until the end. I love your mom.”

We are back in the garden.

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
(Woodstock, Joni Mitchell)


15 thoughts on “A Cog in the Wheel: the return of a caregiver”

  1. O frabjous day! Caloo Callay! You know, this kind of thing makes us who love you all happy and smiley, too!


  2. I am glad you got the “acceptable” care giver back. I hope it works out well.

    I was struck by one comment your mother made. – “But I’m spending your inheritance.”
    My step-father said almost exactly those words when I tried to talk him into hiring someone to help care for my mother after her stroke. Do you suppose it is a generational thing connected with living through the depression?


    PS – An early happy birthday to you at the beginning of your 64th year.


    1. Perhaps the only generation where leaving an inheritance was even possible for the middle class. The depression made them cautious of spending, the return of the stock market made growing money possible. I don’t know what I’m talking about 🙂 but I think you are right. The curious thing is their reluctance to “spend the inheritance” but no compunction about working to death the child for whom the inheritance is intended! (Not saying my mother is doing that.)

      Thank you for the birthday greeting!


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