In The Stands


October 3, 2009 by David Gillaspie




The word caregiver strikes fear into the bravest hearts.  It shouldn’t.  It’s a word combining two cheery words.  Care sounds happy, as in “I didn’t know you cared,” or “you matter because I care about you.” 

We care about things we know about, like our car, and things we don’t know about, like our impact on others.  We hope for the best, but how we’re perceived is beyond our control, or should be.  You can’t make people like you.

Give, or giving, defines our finest moments.  “He gave tirelessly of himself.”  “She gave until she felt like quitting, then gave some more.”  Going that extra mile is all about giving your best effort.

Add care and giving and you get caregiving.  Caregiving means one thing: someone is in bad shape, really bad.  And they need help.  They might need your help.  That’s the frightening part.

Read the following and let the calm begin.

The Golden Rule of caregiving is “Take Care Of Yourself.”  It’s similar to the golden rule of small business regarding who to pay first.  If you break down then you can’t care for your loved one.  I’m not talking about your back or your shoulder.  And I’m not saying emotional melt down. 

Once you feel caregiving duties take over every second of your waking life and dream life, the slide begins.  Physical debilities are obvious; mental slipping is harder to see.  You either get qualified help, or get yourself straightened out enough to maintain your act.

I used high school wrestling.  Both my sons wrestled and Grandpa Ken became their biggest fan.  If they had a match I’d get Ken revved up all day beginning with an early wake-up so he’d be ready for an early bedtime.  We did extra physical therapy, known as arm drags and ties from his lift chair, and extra laps for good luck.

Ken had advanced Parkinson’s to the point where his doctors couldn’t believe how well he was.  Advanced in this instance means if he was in a nursing home he’d either be in bed or in a wheelchair; professional caregivers couldn’t work with him to his feet or walk with him.  He was that far gone to the trained eye, but not to mine.

The man got up and walked because I expected him to.  The wrestlers needed him to workout for good luck.  If he jumps up, they jump up.  That’s what I told him.  That’s what pushed him.  He was doing for someone else instead of someone else doing for him.  It’s a fine distinction. 

When a man is used to being the boss of himself he can’t change without something breaking.  Women have it easier.  As a group they know they’ve always been the boss, but haven’t had the pressure of universal expectations to be more than they are.  They don’t snap when they are no longer the boss, they just regroup.  Now you know why women out-live men, it’s the snapper.

With my father in law tucked in on match nights and my mother in law reading to him, I headed to the school where I could focus on being Wrestling Dad.  I sat with the rest of the moms and dads and cheered.  We urged our guys to “crank on their opponents, bar that arm, force that half, turn him, turn him, now settle, plenty of time, keep him on the mat.”

If you’ve never seen a wrestling match, it’s another world.  It’s desperate and painful.  It’s exalting and heartbreaking.  It turns out it’s full of the same emotions a family caregiver runs through every day with their loved ones, except in wrestling there’s a time limit.

After each wrestling match I came home ande gave Ken a round-up.  Whether he was asleep or loaded on his prescription meds, I gave him the wrestling report; who won, who lost, who looked good, who got hurt, who launched their opponent and who hung on them like clothes in a closet.

I didn’t talk to him in the dark to get his response.  I didn’t suppose he was waiting up for the results either.  I was there to reinforce things.  I told him how the boys did at the end of my report.  I saved it for the end to give him a chance to ask about them.  If he didn’t it went like this: 

“The boys did good.  You were going to ask, yeah?”

If I didn’t hear anything I said it again in a different way, giving another prompt. CareStands2

“You want to know how the boys did.  They did good, yeah?”

The “yeah” is the most important part of this exchange.

“You wanted them to do good, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Ken says.

After the quiet “yeah” I fluffed his pillow and straightened his blankets, made sure his feet weren’t trapped in a tight sheet and said,

“They did good and so did you.  It’s our team.  Thank you Kenny.  Goodnight.”



David Gillaspie


One thought on “In The Stands

  1. Anita Mellott says:

    Hello David,
    Thanks for pointing me to your blog. Your posts are helpful about caring for aging parents. thanks for your encouragement.

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