Five Ways to Help Your Family Member When The Weather Is Bad
First real snowstorm of the season today.
It's amazing how we have made it to mid January on the East Coast without snow. I missed it. It reminds me of really good times in Connecticut. When it got really cold out, it forced us to be creative about things to do. It's how we had Jolt parties (cola with very high caffeine in it). Apparently this was not a good idea as I have recently discovered that Jolt Cola is not a health food.
For a lot of you, bad weather is a nuisance, making the care taking of family that you had planned to do a little more complicated, or even impossible. Two years ago, Mom moved to Philadelphia and it's been two years since we had to worry about the snow for her and what a big deal that was when she lived alone in Connecticut. But it hasn't been long enough for me to erase the memory of worrying so much about her during a big storm. So today, while there is a gentle flurry of snow outside, I've compiled some helpful hints on what to do when your family member that you are taking care of it is in an area with bad weather. This list could probably apply to anyone but I have a particular focus on those taking care of someone who has dementia.
1. Here is the question I want you to ask whenever your Mom or Dad brings up something that needs to be done. Ask yourself: "Who can do this?" Doesn't seem like a particularly deep question, but it is WAY different than just saying "Cancel whatever I had planned on doing, my parent needs help and now I am going to help them". This mentality assumes that the person who has to do things is YOU every time. So here we go. Did you ask yourself the question? Is it still you that needs to get something done. Check the list below.
2. Visit them. Especially for my Mom, snow brings memories of shoveling, falling and driving being unsafe. Was she doing donuts in our minivan when I wasn't looking? Maybe. We have found that a quick visit when possible really helps a lot. If you truly can't get out, can you have your parent's nurse check in on them for a "social" visit? Especially if your parent has been recieving care for a while, the nurse system might just throw this in as a package deal and not charge you for it. Ask if they are busy first. If your parent is close to someone who can help them get it set up, want to Skype instead? If you can't visit and can't Skype, don't despair. That thing you take pictures on is also a phone! If your family member can still answer the phone, give them a call. Now, if all of these don't work, write a letter. An old fashioned letter. Keep it short. Maybe throw in a picture of yourself with the card, to center the reader on who is doing the writing. My Mom can't remember lots of things. But this year she counted her Christmas cards and has repeated many times that she got 22 Christmas cards.
3. Reassure them that the weather is not going to overwhelm them and that they are safe where they are. My Mom often hears bits and pieces of the weather report and between that, a not great memory and a whole lot of older men and women watching the weather 24/7 in the building where she lives and then talking about it at every meal, they can cook up a real shit storm of worry over a few flakes. When we used to live in Connecticut, and would sometimes get feet of snow at a time, Mom was the one who would worry, go to the store and make sure we had provisions! I'm sure, deep in her memory it might feel like she needs to prepare for a storm.
4. Outsource. Around here we use Instacart or Peapod. Does your Mom or Dad really need groceries? If they do, please don't go get them for them. You are uniquely qualified to love and spend time with your parent. You are not uniquely qualified to bring them groceries. Call your local grocery store, do they have a delivery service? Set up an online service for them to deliver groceries on a regular basis while you are at it! Is Mom or Dad sick of the food where they live? Call a pizza place nearby that delivers and pay over the phone. (Call Mom and Dad first to make sure they know the pizza is for them). If you take care of your parent in your home and they are insisting on certain grocery items- outsource those groceries for yourself!
4b. Outsource energy. Send an email to your parent's friends and family. What are they doing to prep for the storm? Can they pick up an extra ____ and drop one off to your parent? Do they want to visit for a little while while they drop that thing off? Can they be more mindful of making sure to call your parent/write a letter?
5. Safety First! If there is a really big storm coming, and you are genuinely concerned about your family, talk to the nursing staff if your parent doesn't live with you. Ask what they normally do in the case of a storm. If your parent had to be evacuated for any reason, where would they go? How would they keep your family member safe and from wandering away?
BONUS TIP! Go outside with your immediate family/friends/neighbors for a walk in the snow. Yes, bundle them all up, break out the long johns and take the effort to go outside.
This makes it look like a huge hill but it was really a snow bank.
Half of this is just for tradition's sake, the other half is to get the hot chocolate when you come back inside. Go to a local bar and sit in the window seat and watch the snow. Sit in bed and read alone. Pull in one of your chairs from outside, drape a sweater over it and stick it in the window of your apartment so you can feel like you are "enjoying" the snow while sitting still. Find joy right now, even in the cold. It's there, just waiting for you to laugh about it.
How can you find joy this winter?