It was my first morning on the job as a Personal Chef and I’d already been fired! Apparently my oatmeal wasn’t up to my client’s standards, so she had sent it back three times. First, it was too thin; then too thick; then too cold. I felt like I was in the middle of a fairy tale involving three bears and porridge, but in this version, Goldilocks was my ‘client’ — and she was my grandmother!
When I think of Nanny, I always remember her long, flowing strawberry blonde hair that she kept tied up in a bun. My sisters and I felt so lucky as children, when we happened to catch a glimpse of her hair down; it was gorgeous! And Nanny was a beauty. Tall and statuesque, she had presence–and, of course, the personality to boot!
We’d just moved Nanny onto the sun porch in my parents’ home, which we’d converted into a homecare suite. She was 89, and been through the ringer in the past year, having suffered through a stroke, a fall, and most recently pneumonia. Nanny now needed help doing all tasks of daily living, from dressing to bathing to eating, so “Personal Chef” was just one of my roles as her full-time caregiver. (Of course, I’d just been relieved of my duties in the kitchen!) But Nanny—despite her physical limitations—a still had complete control from her hospice bed. She’d point her right index finger at us and tell it like it is!
What I didn’t see coming, (besides the firing!), was Nanny’s need for consistency. I am a great cook, and she was only half-joking about my ineptitude at making oatmeal. I only share this story because it shows how vibrant she was until her very last day. The real issue was the predictability and reliability that she had grown used to in the nursing facility, where she had lived for the past year. What we thought was boring to have day in and day out, was actually a comfort for her. I realized that she relied on that regularity, and that this big move to my parent’s home—which, to me, felt like breaking her out of jail!—was incredibly disruptive for her. Suddenly, the oatmeal wasn’t the same; the one aide who could do her hair the right way, was no longer there; and life was in shambles. I was scrambling to pick up the pieces!
Here in NYC, I’m currently in the process of moving apartments, so I totally get it. Things aren’t where they normally are when I go to reach for them—they’re packed away in boxes—and it’s unsettling. It’s frustrating and unnerving to have your life out of order, and I can only imagine how hard it was for Nan, who was (after her stroke) dependent on us for everything.
It took several tries to get the oatmeal ‘just right’, but I finally did it. And I was eventually reinstated to my post in the kitchen. Each task in caregiving went this route, until I got it all down to a science. Over time, I became the one who knew how to do it all the right way. I knew just the right angle to get her dentures in without pain; I knew the exact formula for preparing her oatmeal; and I knew the right amount of rouge to put on her cheeks. When Nan started insisting that I be the one to do these tasks, I’ve never been more honored. “My Liz, my Liz,” she’d say to the homecare aide. “Let Liz do it. She knows how to do it best.”
Change is hard for all involved in the caregiving setting, so give it time; settle in to your new “normal” and a routine will ensue. Anxiety is a normal part of the process and the more you can go with the flow, the better. Recognize that loss of control is particularly hard for those who are suddenly dependent on others, and it’s a true gift when your aging loved one trusts you with their care. Even if they “fire” you along the way :)