Life with Clara: One Caregiver’s Journey is the title of a book I just finished. Michele Bertanini describes her eight years of caring for her mother-in-law. She starts by talking about how she and her husband decided to build a house with a separate apartment for Clara so they wouldn’t have to take care of two houses.
At first, Clara only needed help with grocery shopping and transportation since she couldn’t drive. Then her eyesight started deteriorating. Clara was never one for going to doctors, but Michele encouraged her to see an eye doctor so she could continue reading, an activity she enjoyed. The doctor thought she had diabetes and referred her to a specialist.
Michele also encouraged her to see an internist, and she started insulin injections. Because Clara neglected her condition for years, her kidneys were failing, and she would soon be on dialysis. Clara reluctantly learned how to give herself the insulin injections so at first, all Michele had to do was prepare the syringes, but when Clara fell and broke her arm, the real care giving began.
Michele describes how for eight years, she bathed Clara, cleaned up after her, helped her get dressed, drove her to and from dialysis and other appointments, and prepared her meals. She talks about the frustration of regulating Clara’s diet because her mother-in-law kept snitching food she wasn’t supposed to have. Although Clara was a sweetheart most of the time, she insisted on getting up, eating, taking a nap, and going to bed at certain times, no matter what Michele’s schedule was, and she wasn’t flexible. I won’t even mention the butt cream incident. She also wanted certain foods at certain times and rarely settled for anything else. Besides caring for Clara, Michele also had a husband and two sons to cook for and clean up after, and she explains how such family events as her older son’s high school graduation and wedding were more stressful than they normally would have been because she had to worry about caring for Clara during those times. It was also hard for the family to take vacations because arrangements had to be made for Clara’s care in their absence.
When her older son was injured twice as a result of sporting accidents, Michele was taking care of him and Clara. Because the older son was just as demanding as his grandmother when he was laid up, she was tempted to put them both in a nursing home. Who can blame her?
After eight years, longer than her doctor predicted she would live on dialysis, Clara started deteriorating. She got so weak that Michele could barely help her stand. When she fell in the shower and broke her leg, she was rushed to the hospital, and it was then that fluid was found in her lungs. She soon died after complications from surgery to repair the broken leg.
Besides the funeral, Michele also describes life after Clara and coping with the loss of her mother-in-law and the fact that she was no longer responsible for her care. She suffered from nightmares, sleeplessness, and panic attacks, but in time, these subsided. She ends with a humorous piece of advice for other caregivers. “If you ever find yourself in a position of washing your aged parent after they have soiled themselves, please remember, and keep the washcloth out of their reach!!!”
I like Michele’s writing style. She has a way of making you feel like she’s telling you about her experiences instead of you reading about them. I was right there with Michele, whether she was driving Clara home from the hospital through a snowstorm or on her hands and knees cleaning her up after she soiled herself and ended up with a mouthful if dirty water because Clara grabbed the washcloth and started wiping herself.
You can read excerpts from Michele’s book on her blog. There are also links to where it can be purchased from Create Space. I recommend this book to anyone, not just caregivers. It will open your eyes to what life is like when you have to care for a loved one.
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver