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Note to self: have fun while providing elder care

by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

Advancing age and chronic multiple illnesses are not a laughing matter. Whenever possible, lighter moments in eldercare can make life a little easier for both caregivers and their elders. For this caregiver, moments of levity abound.

"Enough levity" pops into my mind as I write this. Both words have always been said with conviction by my mother, albeit arbitrarily, and usually with her broadest smile. Now that Mom is days away from being 85 years old, she utters her "enough levity" mantra when she laughs so much that tears come to her eyes. Regrettably, Mom experiences a mild coughing fit whenever the moment of enough levity announces its party-pooper arrival.

I say that brief coughing fits are good for clearing her lungs. A doctor I am not. I might be a wannabe comedian, though? If I am, let it be known that I inherited my sense of humor from my beloved Mom. "You're a real joker," she says. "You know I can't laugh anymore." Not really. Isn't there always time for laughter while life remains? Of course there is. Then again, I do enjoy simply abundant laughter. Mom's right on that.

Eldercare's Lighthearted Moments

Eldercare, chronic illnesses and providing assistive care to a parent whose health has been frail for a couple years is not funny. If there are whimsical and lighthearted moments to be found, and they are, such moments come from my heart and enduring love for my parents. My sense of whimsy arises from a place within my heart that is certain that nothing lasts forever. A long-ago sage who authored the Book of Proverbs may have said it best. "Life is but a vapour." [King James Version]

Depending on elders' and caregivers' sense of whimsy, many things can make either, or both, parties smile, giggle, chuckle or flat out laugh until tears start rolling down our aching cheeks. My eldercare whimsical moments keep me smiling well beyond the recurring announcement of "enough levity." These are real moments that enable me to better balance caregiving's heavy, heavier, and heaviest moments with lighthearted memorable moments. Where's my camera? These moments are too precious for me ever to forget.

Pillow Fights

Remember pillow fights from childhood? Pillow taps with the softest of pillows may bring a smile to your face, or your elder's, when you both need an eldercare tug-of-war break. The only downside for me is that Mom's comeback is never a pillow tap. Invariably, I am on the receiving end of a pillow thump, bop, or whop. Ouch. I didn't see that coming though I should have.

No matter how achy Mom may be when I am helping her get into her bed at night, a pillow-tap-thud-thump-whop-and-throw fest across the room is apt to make us both laugh ourselves silly.

Did I mention that Mom's laughter has always been contagious? I learned that through many friends in my youth. While on telephone calls my friends would say, "I can hear your Mom laughing all the way over here! What's she watching on tv?" I was clueless, but we laughed all the same. After all, Mom was laughing. Maybe Archie Bunker, or Maude?

Off-Key Singing

In context of caregiving only, I intentionally enjoy freestyle off-key singing. I make up my own song lyrics and sing out loud, in the manner someone might do while in the shower. I take my shrill musical notes to ridiculous off-key highs and lows in rapid succession while I am providing assistive care. Mom laughs at my silly care-songs. I even laugh when I hear my off-key sounds. Mercy.

While singing, I can't help but think of American Idol's worst off-key contestants. I'm right up there in American Idol fame, or infamy, as the case may be.

Silly Dancing

Think rodeo clown on this one. As I perform my daily assistive care tasks and domestic chores, if there is music playing in the background, including any spirited televised commercial jingle, there is always ample time for me to do a silly dance move, Texas two-step, or six. My fast-breaking dance moves are finished in the twinkling of an eye, though not before Mom starts chuckling, then laughing. Just as I don't do windows, I don't break-dance.

Respiratory Inhalers Choreographed

I demonstrate multiple daily mock-ups of respiratory inhaler use in the air. My mock-ups help Mom hold fast to the self-confidence she needs to independently administer her own inhaler treatments. Usually, smooth music plays in the background as I demo and mimic the motions Mom needs to mirror so she can self-administer her respiratory inhaler medication.

Once she is at the point where she needs to hold her breath for as long as she can to allow her inhaled medicine to be fully absorbed in her bronchial system, I start moving my hands in slow motion gestures, in the manner a choir or orchestra director might when conducting a musical performance. I become a real ar-teest for a few seconds in time. Just long enough for Mom to hold her breath, then quickly kick my shin to remind me that she's holding and not the least bit amused, or comfortable, holding her breath while I "wave my hands in the air like I just don't care."

All good things come to an end, as I cease conducting and exhale through my mouth, signaling the end of the choreographed performance. All that's left for Mom to do is crack up while she follows my lead and exhales deeply- courtesy of a huge fit of laughter on Mom's part. Once she's there, her lungs always see fit to clear some respiratory crud. Mom's day ends with easy breathing. Check.

Way to go to sleep, Mom! Guess who also breathes a sigh of relief with each breath Mom takes?

Are You Having Any Caregiving Fun?

My fun in caregiving moments work for my mother's care. I know what makes Mom laugh and temporarily forget her chronic health concerns, advancing age and inevitable age-related decline. Nothing in either of our lives is so serious as to preclude daily lighthearted moments.

What fun might you choose to add to your elder's world and your own? First, do no harm, if you choose to have fun caregiving.

May you find and enjoy many precious moments in your caregiving journey with your elders. Life will still be waiting for both of you after you're both done laughing and giggling. Life is as relentless as care days are long.

"Enough levity" just may be life's mantra? Enjoy moments of levity anyway, just because you can.

Life's too short to not have fun caregiving.