On Love and Laughter and Having to Pee

Hello, my friends. Sorry I have been missing in action for so long. Things have been busy. And sometimes a bit fraught. And when I did have time, I could not muster the enthusiasm for anything but retreating to a quiet corner with my book. Honestly, I’m a bit like a cat in that way. I mean, if cats could read.

Rising waters. Spring on the Saint John River at home. Situation normal.

I’m back from New Brunswick now. I had a good visit. When I arrived, my sister Carolyn travelled to Ontario to see about a few things that needed to be seen to, and I stayed with Mum. Carolyn is so good with Mum. She studied nursing in university for two years before switching to pharmacy, and the skills she developed then have not been lost. I am not so capable. Staying with Mum on my own is a very different experience than it was pre-pandemic. Mum is more frail and less mobile and needs more care. She usually has care workers for a morning shift and a late afternoon shift. But because of the rising Covid numbers in New Brunswick, there were many shifts that could not be filled, and then it was just Mum and me.

Mornings are about helping Mum get out of bed and ready for her day, and the bed changing and laundry and personal care that goes along with that. After lunch is easy. Mum naps and does her physio exercises. Evenings, after supper and the requisite TV watching, involve the reverse of the morning with personal care, and a few extra more “personal” tasks that I was hesitant to take on. But after initial flappiness on my part, and encouragement from Mum, I managed okay. And then to my own amazement I grew better and better at it. Mum said I would be eligible for “my qualification papers” by the time Carolyn came home. Ha.

Fredericton City Hall in the spring sunshine.

I have to say that I am not a good personal care worker. Because, well, bodily fluids, personal space, patience, bending, lifting, bending. But I was happy to do it. If not exactly happy while doing it. At one point I told Mum: “It’s a good thing I love you. That helps with the gagging, I think.” And we both laughed.

I’ve decided that everyone should try to be a personal care worker for a few days. If only to appreciate the people who do this work every day. And, wow, do we appreciate them! When Stephanie, one of Mum’s care workers, arrived the morning after I’d been alone with Mum for a couple of days, I could have hugged her. She bustled around, greeting Mum, getting her meds ready, helping her to the bathroom, stripping the bed, starting the washing machine, and organizing the towels and stuff for Mum’s shower, while I stood in the kitchen drinking my tea, sighing with relief, and smiling like an idiot.

With Stephanie or Theresa to do the morning shift, I was better able to handle the evening stuff. Plus I could more easily leave the house to go for my walk or get groceries, or even hide in a corner with my book for an hour.

But you know, I mustn’t forget the other element, in some ways the most important element, that made everything easier: Mum’s sense of humour. With me and Carolyn, and with her “girls” as she calls her care workers. Mum is long over the feeling of uselessness that attends giving up so much control in her life. Well, most of the time, anyway. And she jokes with the girls, and with my sister and me, when many people would be frustrated, or angry, or humiliated.

Not that she doesn’t feel frustration. Especially with the pain, and the fatigue, and the inability to just get up and move easily whenever she wants. She is still able to get around with her walker. But not without someone to help her out of her chair, and remain in attendance. She knows the risks and is careful. But I know that some days she’d just love to be able to pop out of her chair and go make a big batch of doughnuts. And we’d love it if she could do that too.

Still, it’s amazing the laughs that can be had when doing personal care for someone you love. Like the last night I was there. I tried to help Mum out of her chair because she had to pee. But I couldn’t manage it, so Carolyn took over. Mum made a smart remark. I replied in kind. And Carolyn collapsed into a nearby chair in stitches, saying that it was a good thing she’d already peed. Because if she hadn’t she’d certainly be doing so now. Then we helped Mum up and she and her walker shuffled off to the bathroom. And I thought, you know, maybe love and laughter are the secret to coping with getting old.

Mum. Being pensive? Or thinking of a smart remark?

After my sister returned from Ontario the best part of my trip began. She did most of the evening care, and I focused on the meal preparation. I tried to make stuff that she doesn’t usually cook and that I know Mum would like. And I bought lots of treats for dessert. Then after supper, the three of us would settle down with our tea and dessert and watch British detective shows on TV. Mum sighed one evening and said that was the best part of the day. The three of us pigging out and watching Vera or Inspector Lynley Mysteries. Carolyn and I agreed.

Carolyn in her new coat. We squeezed in a teensy bit of shopping one day.

My sister and I had lots of time together this trip. Especially in the evenings after Mum was in bed. We yakked about clothes, browsed on-line shopping sites, and restyled some of the older pieces in her closet into new outfits. And we talked about everything.

One night she said that she would never have guessed she would be the one caring for Mum. She said that I have always been closer to Mum, share more of her interests, and know her better. And in many ways that’s true. I’ve always been the one who travelled home the most, who shopped and knitted and watched Jane Austen movies with Mum. Who swapped books and listened to old family stories. But then isn’t it good, I thought, that she is here now? She has the opportunity to get to know Mum better than she ever has. I mean I know that my sister is making a big sacrifice to be there. But maybe it will turn out to be a gift, not just to Mum. But to them both.

Homeward bound.

I am not trying to minimize the huge thing that my sister is doing. For Mum, and for all of us. And I am grateful because now I’m not worried all the time if Mum is okay, if she’s eating right, if she has enough books to read. Or if she’s lonely. I know she has lots of good care givers. And lots of love and laughter too.

So, there were a few fraught moments for me this trip when I was alone with Mum. Nothing that I couldn’t handle, as I discovered. But my sister, my sister is a wonder. She is a strong woman in all senses of that word. And I’m thinking that maybe she has more in common with Mum than she realizes.


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From the archives


Stripes for Spring: Splurge Update

I seem to be all about stripes for spring this year my friends. Navy and white stripes. So fresh and springy. Stripes with everything, I say.

Home and Away.

The best kind of travel is when you feel at home no matter where you are.

Wild Harvest

If it's spring it must be time to harvest wild fiddleheads. I grew up with wild harvests. And Hubby and I carry on that tradition.

44 thoughts on “On Love and Laughter and Having to Pee”

  1. I can relate to so much of this. My 94 year old mom is in assisted living and receiving hospice care, but she needs more help than staff can provide. She took a turn for the worse in late January and my 3 siblings and I took a week at a time to stay with her 24/7. By late February we knew we couldn’t keep that up long term. We were blessed to find a caregiver to come in M-F from 8-1 and 5-8. She dresses mom in the morning, helps her with meals, and gets her ready for bed. Mom is pretty much bed bound though she occasionally sits in her wheelchair in the kitchen for a meal. It takes 2 people to transfer her 83# body as she can’t stand. My siblings and I now alternate weekends—one a month. Being a caregiver is hard work, but the time together is also a blessing. She gave so much to us over the years, so returning that care does have a precious aspect.

    P.S. I can see where you got your beautiful hair! And the robe color is lovely on her.

    1. All of you will be in my thoughts and prayers. We had a long and complicated process letting go of my mother. Alzheimers being just one piece of the picture. You are right, humor is essential. Sometimes that is all you have to get through the moments that make up the day. I think learning to deal with the anxiety that takes you to dark places as you parent your parents is one of the biggest challenges. Deep breathing, talking to another sibling, chocolate and wine certainly help. Please know that although you may feel isolated you are not alone….there are many of us out here and we care! Best to you.

    2. Mum is so lucky to have her twice daily care funded by the government. She pays a small portion of the cost. And has access to a nurse, a physiotherapist, and an occupational therapist who can visit her home. The bedtime shift is covered by my sister, or me when I’m there. I must tell Mum you said she has beautiful hair. She will love that. 🙂

  2. I think of your mom every time I drive by, and wonder. Thanks for the peek inside. I’m glad you were able to be home and have this time. It’s hard on so many levels, and yet you found the joy.

    As for cats, I think they absorb books right through the covers. Why else would they love sprawling on novels, newspapers, and keyboards, right?

    1. I love that idea about cats, Alice. I had one who would sit in my lap while I marked student papers. And I never even asked him if he agreed with my assessment. 🙂

  3. It seems that you are all doing a fine job. Not always easy to do the myriad physical tasks that old and frail people need help with and to cope with the rest of life. Ah, the reassurance of wallpaper TV: in my case, Inspector George Gently, Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders. Restfully absorbing even if mum had the volume so loud that my teeth jarred. Enjoy being home again.

  4. Yes , laughter & love – at every stage of our lives I think but especially important for your mum now . I look back at that stage of my mum’s life & really appreciate our time together . She liked me to read the James Herriot books to her & we did laugh . Having a sister with nursing experience helped me such a lot too , though she did tick me off at times . I didn’t quite make the grade 😁
    You ladies all have great hair , I’m loving Carolyn’s tousled bob style .

    1. Thanks, Wendy. I felt that I was not quite making the grade, but Mum’s reassurance that I was doing well helped. My sister often despairs over her hair. That hair despair thing must be a family trait. Ha.

  5. Your Mum looks so beautiful!
    It is wonderful and so touching that your sister can be with your Mum (and you can visit)
    It resonates with me- (with caring and with not being there during vacations-it is difficult) we had all sorts of combinations during my father’s ilnesses,mostly my mother,me and a wonderful physiotherapist,but there were nurses,too,from time to time,and almost every day during the last year
    We all love to care for little babies but it is more difficult when situation is reverse. 

    1. One thing that helped me was my mum telling me that she was not able to do this for her mum. She said she tried and she just could not. Her honesty made me feel better about my lack of skills in the nursing area.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experiences taking care of your Mom. God bless you, your sister and your Mom.

  7. My mother passed years ago but this brings back so many precious memories. I have two sisters and we divided duties, which worked perfect for us. Sadly, we weren’t there at the same time much but for the first time I realized that mother treated us differently due to our different personalities and I do with my own children. I pray that love and laughter will be my gift to others who take care of me in my old age.

  8. This was very moving to read. Elder care has become a major part of my life in the recent years, and these challenges have been compounded by the pandemic. My father passed away almost two years ago, and my 92-year-old mother is now in an assisted living facility close to where I live. While she is not as physically frail as your mother, we are dealing with dementia, which has been very difficult.

    I feel as if I’m part of a secret tribe of caregivers of elderly parents that I barely knew existed until recently. (More accurately, I probably tended to ignore the reality of how much life would change as my parents aged.)

    So glad you were able to get home for a visit and that your sister is able to take on the amount of day-to-day care that she is doing. What a blessing for everyone!

    1. Joanne in New Hampshire

      Your phrase ‘secret tribe of caregivers’ really resonates with me, and, judging by all the other lovely comments, there are lots of us. It really helps to know we’re not alone and that we’ll look back at this time with gratitude. Love to all.

  9. Sue, my thoughts are with you.
    My mother lived on the other side of the river, and closer to the city than you. In many ways, in her older years, it was a gift to be able to be a part of her care. We were closer then, than for many years. Non of the usual mother/daughter complexities that existed. It was a peaceful time…sometimes.
    I cherish those last few years. It made me a better person.

    1. My mum and I have always been close, but I think my sister feels much closer to her now. And you’re right… the whole care thing did make me a better person. I think.

  10. This journey is fraught with peril for families who don’t navigate well in rough seas. I’m envious of you and your sister and how you’re managing. In too many cases guilt, expectations and recriminations alter relationships. Your mother’s attitude is a blessing. Keep laughing together, and may you never lose sight of the love. We will all be there one day.

  11. Love and laughter – a good combination to cope with a frail elderly person. Your mother sounds as if she is well looked after and much loved.

  12. Thank you for sharing this beautiful time with your Mom and sister. It reminded me of my time with my Mom and Dad in their fragile years. In all the time since my parents have been gone, those sweet special times are most precious to me.
    I appreciate and enjoy your blog so much. I’m not a fashion person but love your writing. I have also taken your suggestions on books and found wonderful reads!! Thanks

  13. What a wonderful post about caring for an elderly parent. Like you, I am not so good on some of the functional care tasks. However, I don’t have an excuse, as like your sister I nursed in my early career days. The strange thing is that one is surprised that one’s parents are ageing and requiring assistance. I guess we expect them to always to be in charge and control. Love, laughter and patience are key for negotiating changing roles.

  14. Reading these comments, I see that you have touched and inspired many of us. I was not so lucky to have a time of caring for my parents, as they have both been in heaven now for years, but I often wonder how good I would be at it if called upon. You and your sister are doing a noble thing, and with love.
    I wanted to add that I watched the Netflix series about the portrait painters’ competition, and just loved it! If you come upon anything else, please mention it. I had many late afternoons with the portrait painters and my coffee. Lovely!

  15. What a lovely strong profile your mom has – and yes, I have so much the same experience right now – elderly and infirm mother, much more competent and able sister, me trying to help both of them. I suspect each role is terribly difficult at times!


  16. Thank you for sharing this trip. You and your sister are wonderful daughters. I am sure that your mother is so glad to have you with her. Your sister sounds amazing! (We already know that you are amazing, but it is wonderful to read about Carolyn.)
    My husband is an incredible caretaker. Me – not so much. He was great with his father and now his mother. He does anything that needs doing.
    This getting old stuff is quite a challenge. I feel it around the edges, but see it with our parents and neighbors. I believe that you are right about having a sense of humor and love to get through it all successfully.
    Enjoy your time settling in back home and watching developments in the garden.

  17. What a touching post. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience. I see the resemblance between you and your mum…and the three of you have beautiful hair. Love and laughter. ❤️

  18. I have just returned from a trip to IN to celebrate my mom’s 95th birthday (Easter Sunday) As mom is the last of her generation on both sides of the family, we had a spectacular turnout. Cousins from all over the US, grandkids, great grandkids etc. We partied at our favorite pub on Friday night, ordered pizza from a favorite place, and had a brunch at the local country club. Mom is in senior living but gets around fine on her own. We all know how blessed we are to have her with us. Our next plan is to celebrate her 100th in the same style!

    1. So good that you all were able to celebrate. Wish my mum was still able to get around like she was a couple of years ago. Her arthritis is very bad. I’m happy that she still has a great attitude.

  19. Your mother must love you so much. It can be a gift to care for someone who has cared for you. Another way to know them. I feel full of love having read this post.

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