Who cares for the caregivers?

Mosaic MoonWhat to do with baby boomers as we age?  Sunday’s sermon began with a series of quotes from a Japanese economist and government minister, who suggested that any of his countryman who were elderly and sick should curl up and die and not tap into the country’s health-care resources.  Their time is up, he said, and turning to the government to cover their medical expenses is a waste of scarce funds. From the point of view of economics, he may be right,  but there are other lenses to look through when we think about late-life issues.

Our minister viewed the issue through a lens of compassion. I teared up when he spoke of the emotional challenges of providing care to the elderly, especially if they suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, because it reminded me of my mother’s caregivers. They were saints. I based that opinion on my regular but short visits to their adult family home, which meant I didn’t see but a fraction of the difficulties they faced every day.

The last part of the sermon was an inspiring story about what happened in one community when caregivers and creativity came together. The source of the story, the book “Mosaic Moon,” tells of a program sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, Aloha Chapter, (Hawaii) to give caregivers one day a month off for a year from their unpaid, demanding, and stressful jobs to take part in a workshop on journaling and poetry.  The book talks about the structure of the program, the caregivers’ journeys to become poets, and the transformation that took place in all of them.  As author Frances H. Kakugawa said, they all “rose above the burden of care.”

Most of the book is filled with Kakugawa’s poems, framing and reframing her own caregiving experiences to position herself as the one who gained the most from her work.  In one of her lighter poems titled, “How to Spot a Caregiver,” she says,

“The mother in a wheelchair                                                                                               Coordinated picture-perfect                                                                                                                    In a mu’umu’u,                                                                                                                              Matching vest and shoes.                                                                                                           Don’t look down                                                                                                                                   But her caregiver’s feet in two different sandals                                                                              Of two different heights.                                                                                                                  But shhhhh, don’t tell her,                                                                                                                 She needs her dignity preserved, too.”

If I were a poet, I’d start a group like this, but since I’m not, I’ll just recommend the book to anyone who’s ever been a caregiver or who might need care one day.  As the population ages, the size of the latter will grow, which makes the book worth reading now by anyone of a certain age.  And instead of criticizing the sick and calculating the costs of their health problems, let’s thank all their family members (usually daughters) and paid caregivers who will make much bigger sacrifices than the Japanese politician, and most other politicians, to care for the aging he so casually dismisses from the discussion.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
This entry was posted in aging, personal reflections, support and caring. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Who cares for the caregivers?

  1. Karen says:

    The Japanese Economics Minister is reflecting the Japanese custom of old while we translate through our “western ears”. Watch The Ballad of Narayama. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084390/ It is about how the Japanese dealt with the elderly in the old days. It portrays both the ugly and believe it or not peaceful perspective on dying. I think you’ll enjoy the movie…or at least it will be memorable! -Karen

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