I woke before dawn, curled into a ball and shivering in a leather recliner jammed into a spare bedroom that smelled like the burnt coffee and stale Pall Malls of my parents’ house.
Through the gauze of sleep and sunrise, I could see the powder-blue Snuggie my husband gave me as a joke covering my body, a red asthma inhaler in my right hand and mismatched gym socks on my feet.
Was this some sort of hangover nightmare? I didn’t feel sick.
“Amanda!,” my mother called up the steps, her walker slamming against the bannister. She hadn’t called my name like that since junior high and I jumped up thinking for a moment that I was about to miss the bus.
But I was 45. And, I realized only then, I was in my own house.
It was the day after my mom and dad — in their 80s, with failing mental and physical health — moved in with my husband and me: Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2012.
At the time, I thought I’d take a couple of days off work from my job as a reporter at Cleveland’s newspaper, The Plain Dealer, to get them settled in and assumed we would all go on with our lives — my parents safely tucked away at our suburban colonial, my husband and I, a bit more stressed, plowing forward.
But a few days off work turned into a generous year-long leave of absence and ultimately a tough choice: Quit the job I loved and become a stay-at home daughter or go back to work and put my mother in a nursing home and my father in assisted living.
Even as I type those words now — I quit — I feel queasy. Few other women in their 40s could have been less prepared for caregiving than I was. I never had children. I still thought popcorn a reasonable week-night dinner option. And I treated my home as a private sanctuary to be visited by others only once in a while and when invited.
The only thing I had going for me was reporting skill, 22 years of ferreting out information on everything from dirty politics and government corruption to the story of a WWII veteran accused of killing a WWI veteran with a walker in a nursing home (which, not surprisingly, I think of every time I consider nursing homes).
But even I had problems finding what I was looking for, or at least finding information I could trust.
Over Christmas, I ran into a newspaper friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. After chatting for a few moments, she encouraged (in a loving, yet pressure-filled way) me to launch a blog about what I have learned caring for my parents, reminding me that there are thousands of other daughters and sons looking for that same information.
So here we are. I don’t claim to be an expert on all things in the care of the elderly. But since that sunrise I woke up in the recliner, I have been through the lawyers, the home healthcare agencies, the physical therapists. I have been through the doctors, the specialists, the insurance companies.
I have negotiated my parents’ smoking (an ongoing process), learned to cook the food of the WWII generation and discovered $10-worth of watercolor paper and pastels means more to my mom than anything we could buy her.
Here’s hoping momanddadmovein.wordpress.com becomes a place where caregivers can find and share information to better negotiate the many challenges — large and small — we face every day.