Monday, November 16, 2009

Caregiver love means laughter instead of tears

I’ve got 30 minutes until my next appointment and I need to buy a sweater. There’s only one person working the cash register, but the line is short so I should be OK.

In front of me are a middle aged woman and an elderly woman, probably her mother. They’ve got an arm full of items, but the cashier is working quickly, ringing each item up and folding it carefully.

The elderly woman hands a card to the cashier, who suddenly stops. She looks up at the woman and says, in a loud, slow voice, “This is your insurance card. Do you have any card that has a VISA or MASTERCARD written on it – down here in the corner like this?”

The woman looks through her wallet anxiously. I’m getting nervous for her (and checking my watch). She pulls out a few more cards: her social security card, a membership card, a Costco card. No credit card.

She glances up at her daughter with her head lowered and her eyes downcast. Their eyes connect. I wait for the blame to start: “Mom, what were you thinking?! How could you come shopping without your credit card?”

Instead, they both burst out laughing. The daughter quickly hands over her own credit card and the crisis passes.

For that moment, I forget all about my next appointment. All I can see is the warmth, love and patience that I have been privileged to witness.

Maybe the mom has a touch of memory loss. She might have Alzheimer’s disease and significant impairment. Her daughter clearly has spent the afternoon shopping with her, and clearly expects mom to pay for her purchases. It could have been one of those moments where caregiver stress maxes out the meter. The daughter could have simply lost her temper, and the mother ended up in tears.

Instead, they both end up laughing so hard there are tears in their eyes. They see the humor of the “senior moment,” and – instantly – the tension is gone.

Maybe they know, like so many other caregivers, that sometimes you’ve just got to laugh - or you might never stop crying.

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