Writing while caregiving

Four weeks ago, my 94-year-old mother came to live with us because Covid-19 restrictions at her seniors residence had become untenable. Much has been written about the difficulties for residents of nursing homes and other group-living places. In Mom’s case, the decline in her cognitive and physical health during the months from March to June was significant, as if she was disintegrating day by day.

In July, the doctor prescribed additional medication for her heart. In August, she prescribed anti-depressants. In early October when it became clear that Toronto’s case numbers were rising, we knew Mom’s residence would implement some new type of lockdown. I understand it all intellectually–the way this disease spreads so rapidly, the vulnerability of people Mom’s age, the many deaths that happened in such settings during the early months of Covid-19, the way the virus penetrates even the best line of defences.

I understand the desire to protect our most vulnerable and the struggles facing corporations that operate such facilities–often large, faceless corporations with pleasing logos and good intentions and a share price to consider. But ask yourself this: Is life worth living when all you can do for exercise is walk up and down the halls outside your suite? Is it worth living when the only socialization you receive is an hour at dinner with someone who never says anything? Or when only one designated family member can visit? Or when leaving the residence to attend your granddaughter’s wedding places you in isolation for days?

Mom – one of 12 people at her granddaughter’s wedding

My husband and I spent a day preparing our home and a day to move Mom and settle her in. Four weeks later, she still gets confused about exactly where her things are, where the trash goes, which door is the fridge and which one the freezer. But she’s happy to be with us, loves to help with food prep, table setting, dishes, ironing, and other household tasks. She tires easily, but when the sun is shining – and we’ve had some brilliantly warm weather recently – she loves to go for a walk. She reads and plays solitaire. We do jigsaw puzzles and play Scrabble and look through various memorabilia I brought along packed away in boxes that hadn’t been opened in years.

Martinis – a special treat!

Happy hour is a welcome event and Mom is content to watch the news with us and whatever shows we take in after dinner. A week ago, I introduced her to Downton Abbey and she’s happily watching an episode or two each day.

“What about my writing?” you ask.

Well, that’s pretty much nonexistent. So, if my blogging is sporadic for the next few months, chalk it up to a beautiful mother who needs my care.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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45 Responses

  1. Thank you for setting such an example for the rest of us who are, or will soon be, facing the same types of challenges dealing with an older family member and trying to maintain our writing. Although your actual, physical act of writing might not be existent, you are, nonetheless, writing because even thinking about, gathering ideas for, and amassing material for future writing is still part of the writing process. Rest assured that you are putting your priorities where they should be for this moment in time. I pray that you will have the strength, patience, and grace to fulfill this duty.

  2. You have done the right thing and you are a blessing. I was talking with my best friend in Australia yesterday and her daughter is studying for a nursing degree and she recently did a stint in a nursing home. She told her mother, she will NEVER send her to a nursing home. I remember my Nana living with us when growing up and it was a blessing. My parents believed in this responsibility.

  3. I’m really happy you are getting to spend this time with your mother. Mine died at age 74 in April due to complications from cancer. I miss her every day. Your time with her, while difficult, is a precious gift.

  4. Hi Mary, I cared for my mom who had Alzheimer’s for four years. I found it a hard, but in many ways rich experience of intimacy and love. I also found that I needed some time to myself. I was single during that time (although my now husband came into my life shortly before Mom passed away}. A friend had a vacation cabin near where we live in NW Montana a few miles from Glacier National Park. I hired a young woman to come for two hours a day about five days a week, and I’d hurry over to the cabin and write during that time. I think it kept me feeling well and doing my best at being the caretaker I wanted to be. Congratulations on your decision and the time you have with your lovely mom. Be kind to yourself as well.

    1. Having someone two hours a day sounds like an excellent idea. Thanks for the suggestion, Karen. So glad to know that you have a special person in your life again.

  5. So nice! My 86 year old mother is still doing well on her own, but we’re separated by geography and the fact that my husband’s and my jobs demand our physical presence. (In my case, teaching blended college classes — my students can attend via internet but I’m expected to be there.) I miss her terribly.

    1. So lovely to have your note, Catherine. Being separated by distance is so difficult. Our daughter, son-in-law and two grandson live in Chicago – we miss them terribly. Made worse by not knowing how long it’s going to be.

  6. Your mother has a wonderful smile and a fabulous daughter. We’ve had a similar experience with our dad, who is living now with my sister after a string of tough months – including covid – in assisted living.

  7. My mother turned 95 this month and moved into the independent wing of her retirement village this past June. She is thriving, thankfully. I brought 21 boxes of her archives into my home, after my siblings and I readied her home of 30+ years for sale. The writing that I am doing revolves around the family photos, family letters, and family history that she has gathered. It is so rich, and I have so many questions for her when we talk on the phone. I always end up with some great stories that she tells me as a result of my questions. When I saw your “Writing while caregiving” blog article title, I thought, “Wow, M.K. Tod understands the value of writing not only history but also of capturing family history!” Although your blog article tells me that, at this point, you likely haven’t had time to capture much family history from conversations with your mother, I do anticipate that your mother and her rich memory (hoping she has lots of memories from her past) and her “archives” may be a rich source of writing ideas in your future. I wish you, your mother, and the rest of your family many beautiful shared days ahead.

    1. Such a lovely note, Diane. Many thanks for sharing your personal experience. Some years ago, my mother and I undertook a little project to document her family and some of her personal recollections of growing up and so on. I discovered her notes in one of the boxes I mentioned and the two of us had a great time reading through about 30 pages of recollections. Who knows how my mother’s history will affect my writing – she’s had four men in her life (plus a few others who wanted to be special to her!). I’m sure there’s a story to be told about all that. Wishing you all the best and many more memories with your mother.

        1. Thanks, Diane. It seems that personal stories really touch people. I suppose it’s because we can imagine our own similar experiences – or share stories of our own parents. Be well.

  8. Mary, This really brightened my day! You will never regret opening your home to your mother, nor will she. I will lift my cup of wine to you both tonight! T. K.

    T. K. Thorne TKThorne.com


  9. Mary, my 90 year old mum died four years ago and I’d love to have her with us now – living in the house. I think you’ve done exactly the right thing and you have my complete respect and support. Your Mum’s face says it all. As for the writing, I discovered during our Lockdown that family and the Great Outdoors were worth more than anything. I now spend more time with family and being outside than ever. Writing just has to fit in with those two mainstays of my life. It is what it is. Your family is more important than blogs and books – but you must take care of yourself as well. Stay safe and happy. Cheers.

    1. Many thanks, Prue. I’ve loved seeing your adventures with your delightful little grandson. You’re right about treasuring what’s important. Warm wishes,

  10. How wonderful to have her with you, active and happy! My mom died in February, and we’re actually relieved she didn’t have to face this madness. Enjoy your time with her — your writing will be richer for it. Take care.

  11. Thank you for sharing such an intimate picture of your present life. It reminds us all that we are not along in our new realities–and that our “new realities,” along with a few additional challenges, have definite upsides.

    Best in your continued emotional connection with your Mom and with yourself in this journey.

  12. Such a lovely post. First of all, your mother is beautiful. I would never have guessed her to be 94. I understand what’s involved with taking care of a parent who has dementia. I took care of my dad. It’s not always easy, and often times heartbreaking. But I am grateful to have been in a position to take care of him. I will say that having someone pace you for a few hours now and then is imperative. I send you and your sweet Mom all my best wishes.

  13. Of course, life is worth living. There is more to it than going to restaurants, socializing, etc. It is a unique gift particularly if you are healthy and not suffering. It’s an opportunity to reach out to others less fortunate than yourself- an opportunity to do things you have put off for years, to learn a new skill-so many things are available.
    Why do we put our old folk in Nursing homes in the first place?- perhaps we should take a leaf out of the third world where putting your old folk away is unthinkable, old people are revered and treasured. Maybe Covid is going to change our ways for the better.

  14. We just recently moved my mom in with us. My father passed away in 2018 and I have been listening to my mom worrying constantly about getting her needs met. She no longer drives. She lived an hour and a half away. I work as a Hospice Social Worker and I see, every day, how unhappy nursing home residents/families are. I had this “idea” of spending quality time with my mom. I thought this was going to be the best solution for her to get her needs met. It has been a nightmare. She has dementia, mental illness (untreated bipolar, depression, anxiety), she thrives off of negativity and is verbally combative. I am beyond stressed. We are awaiting an appointment with a new doctor. She says she will not take medication. I am not sure how long this is going to last.

    1. What a challenging time for you, Julienne. Take care of yourself. Seniors can be a challenge, or a blessing, and sometimes both. I truly feel for the difficulties you’re experiencing. Sending hugs.

  15. I have walked your journey several years ago. When I determined my mother was in a less than healthy living environment in another state, I made a little “spy” trip. Her accusations and complaints were true. I immediately made plans to move her 2200 miles to be near my husband and me. Unfortunately, she was immobile and we were unable to lift and hold her up for toileting. But we found a marvelous facility which treated its residents like family. Mom was happy there, we were happy with her care, and we were within 5-10 minutes for visits, etc. People thought I was crazy for moving her so far when I had two brothers in her home state only minutes away from her. My response usually was that I wanted to do the right thing for her, not what the world thought was right. She died shortly after 9/11. I remember feeling depths of gratitude for the time I had with her, our laughs and tears, the memories we created, the foregiveness for past hurts. I also remember thinking how glad I was I did the right thing. You will be too! Thanks for sharing this post for those coming behind us.

    1. Many thanks for sharing your story, Sherrey. Just like you, I know I will cherish this time with Mom. Love seeing her smiles and the quiet moments this allows for both of us.

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