Meet Lannette Cornell Bloom, our newest Salonpas Wellness Warrior, and author of Memories in Dragonflies, which explores her experience of being an overworked nurse, wife, and mom of two who chooses to quit her job, slow down and be present for the hardest year of her life: becoming a caretaker to her mother, who was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.
Salonpas sat down with Lannette for her medical and emotional advice to our readers who are adult children caring for elderly parents:
What was the catalyst that inspired you to quit your job and be a caretaker to your mom?
It wasn’t as much one moment as it was a progression. When my mom was first diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, I was working full-time, but was still able to see her regularly and spend time with her. Her symptoms slowly worsened year by year, but it was in the last year of her life—when she became unable to fulfill her usual chores and daily activities—that I had an overwhelming urge to be by her side. It was then that I realized I could not both care for her and continue my job. With a lot of help from my husband and mental support from my two daughters, we restructured our lives so that I was able to do this.
How can caregivers balance nurturing the sick while holding onto their own independence and health?
First and foremost, it’s important to create a routine. If you know what you have to do each day, when you have to do it, and who else is involved, you’re much more likely to see what is or isn’t working as well as when you have time to take care of yourself.
It’s also important to realize what you can and can’t handle. At some point you need to be relieved of your care-giving duties so you can keep your own life organized. And that means having family, friends, or hired help who can support you so you can take breaks.
Write out plans on what each person can do to help and on what days and times. Help can come in many different forms like a phone call, paying bills, or a physical visit. Open communication is vital to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Finding time to unwind everyday is also essential. Whether you sneak a few quick breaks throughout the day or wait until right before bed, make sure you do something to reset and release stressors. This can be as simple as breathing exercises, a cup of tea, a long bath, or exercising.
What are recommended steps to navigate the shift in roles from child to caregiver of a parent?
- When your situation is at a point that your parent needs end-of-life care, start by envisioning what that will look like for your life.
- Open a dialogue with your parent and any other family members who will be able to help. Even if you are met with resistance, you can begin to understand their daily needs and wants. Communicate how you see your role in this process and how you would like or are able to be involved.
- Show your support. Whether you can be by your parent’s side daily or will be available by phone or electronically, make sure they know you are there and that you aren’t going to leave them to fend for themselves; that even with other people or agencies helping, you will be watching the entire process and will act as their advocate.
- Make decisions together when possible so your parent doesn’t feel helpless in their situation.
Not everyone can afford to leave their job to become a full-time caretaker to a parent. What alternative do you recommend for an adult child who wants to help but can’t be full time?
However you decide or are able to participate in care-giving for your loved one, know that there is no wrong way. If you live far away from your parent or cannot leave work, there are still many ways to be involved. Keep open communication with other family members and/or caregivers so you know where your parent is at in this process and what needs are being fulfilled. You can include your parent’s schedule in your own calendar so you are in the loop.
As a nurse, I was taught to assess the situation, make a plan of care, implement that plan, and continually reevaluate, making changes when needed. This can be done near or from afar. So whether your parent is in a facility or at home, you can still be an advocate for them.
What are the top 5 life lessons you learned from your caretaker experience?
- Communicate openly and listen closely. Everyone is going to have a different opinion, so it’s important to understand other perspectives to ultimately come to the best decision for your parent.
- It’s okay to ask for help. Do not feel guilty if there are times and situations you cannot handle on your own.
- Accept the changes. There is no doubt as you move through this process the dynamics between you and those around you will begin to shift.
- Negative emotions are a normal part of this process. Acknowledge them and let them out so that you can let them go.
- Keep a sense of humor along the journey; there is always joy to be found in hardship.
Why did you decide to write your book, Memories In Dragonflies?
I didn’t so much decide as feel an inexplicable urge. Years after my mom passed, I woke up one night from a dream where she came to me and told me she was happy. It was then I started to write down my experience of that time caring for her. What I found was that the memories were only positive. It had been such a hard time, but I could not remember the negative moments, just the beauty in her dying process that we went through together.
Did your care-taking experience alter or reinforce your spiritual beliefs?
Before the experience of taking care of my mom, I was not very spiritual. I moved through the motions of life, working hard and trying to be a good person to my family and friends. Caring for my mom absolutely altered the way I live. It allowed me to slow down and step outside my daily routine, becoming more mindful of all my experiences, no matter how mundane. I have embraced that the process of living is also the process of dying. But there is no reason to be afraid, as long as we are enjoying each day’s simple joys.