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home : features : people of faith

9/21/2017 9:00:00 AM
GENERATIONS
Book reflects heavy load of at-home caregivers
ANN PRESTON AND LOUISE COWAN (PAT PASTERNAK PHOTO)
ANN PRESTON AND LOUISE COWAN (PAT PASTERNAK PHOTO)
BY PAT PASTERNAK


Ann Preston and Louise Cowan each bore the burden of caring for their mothers at home during the last years of their lives. Now, the two Catholics have corroborated on a book about that experience.

"As Love Wrinkles" describes the gamut of feelings each daughter dealt with and the strong faith that kept them going as they were "thrown into a 24/7 world of being psychologist, elder-care expert, nurse and nutritionist, for all of which they were woefully unprepared."

There were many good times, particularly in the early years.

"My mom and I were very close," said Ms. Preston, who attended St. Edward's parish in Clifton Park until she moved to Rochester. "If she wasn't working, she was with me. We could talk about anything. She was my mom, but she was also my best friend."

Slow decline
When both mothers (referred to under the pseudonyms "Catherine" and "Martha" in the book) moved in with their daughters, they struggled with their own losses: independence, friendships, memory, the death of a spouse, emotional withdrawal from family members and deteriorating physical health.

For 10 years, Catherine lived with Ms. Cowan and her family. For five years, Martha lived with Ms. Preston, a single parent who was in the process of relocating from the Albany Diocese to western New York to be closer to her daughter. Her mom moved with her.

Ms. Preston noted that, in an at-home caregiving situation, the parent can slowly become a stronger force in the home.

"You must care about the needs of your parent, both physically and emotionally, first. In your parent's mind, you will always be the child and you should listen to them; they [should not have to listen] to you. It becomes a frustrating relationship, because neither will listen to the other," she said.

It also becomes irrelevant who may be right or wrong, she added.

Changing dynamics
As subtle changes in the elderly women became more pronounced and their needs became greater, their relationships with their daughters changed, as well.

"Unless you have parented a parent under the same roof, it may be difficult to fully understand the new dynamics -- especially when the changes in mental and physical health appear," said Ms. Cowan, a parishioner of St. Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs.

The last few years of her mother's life, she said, were "a true test of love, commitment and patience" not only for her, but for everyone in the family.

"When parents live in the same home as their child, it is a constant, no-break routine," Ms. Cowan said -- a statement that's repeated in the book. "We love those we care for as much as humanly possible. We want to do everything we can for them because of that love. But, at times, patience is stretched as far as it can go."

Over time, there was a reversal in each case of the mother-daughter relationship. Ms. Cowan said that, even though she reached out to her mom's doctors and available healthcare services, she still felt inadequate as a caregiver.

"We felt deep sadness and grief -- and, in some cases, guilt, as we worried we weren't doing enough for our moms," she explained. "It was because we loved them so much.

"I always worried that I wasn't doing enough, but there we were taking care of her 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We did our best."

Writing process
Ms. Cowan lost her mother 13 years ago. Ms. Preston's mother passed away a little over two years ago. The daughters both worked for a local school district and met through a coworker who had cancer. A friendship began from discussions about caregiving and their mothers having lived with them.

Eventually, they decided to write a book offering support, advice and encouragement to caregivers in situations similar to what they had experienced.

Looking back, each of the authors remembers her respective mother's ability to love and not judge, and a strong faith in God that "carried us all."

"We did the best we could," said Ms. Preston. "We can stop trying to be the perfect daughter, mother, grandmother. We can rejoice in being a child of God, beautifully and wonderfully made.

"It is this knowledge that helps us smile now. We can see the beauty in those long, endless days and know that God will get us through each struggle that comes along."

In the book, the authors note what would best help caregivers: "someone to take an equal share of the care. There were no days off. Personal days and vacations were not on the itinerary."

But, "looking back, we did it, and we really did it well," they write. "We would do it all over again."

("As Love Wrinkles" is available at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, at Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Colonie, at Market Block Books in Troy and through www.amazon.com. There will be a book signing Nov. 4 at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza for National Caregiver Month.)





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