Oliver: Caregiving, like motherhood, can be a lot like managing chaos

Despite efforts to think of everything, unexpected events can thwart the best planning

The longer I am a caregiver, the more appreciation I have for motherhood. It’s a tremendous responsibility to be in charge of another human being. Having never had the privilege of being a mother, I can only imagine what it’s like.

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to think of everything. When that happens, I’m left to hope that it isn’t something that could lead to lasting harm to myself or to my beloved Tony.

Sure, I got a lot of training in taking care of my own mother, who had vascular dementia, for almost four years before she died in April 2018. My mother was tiny and not very mobile when she came to live with us, so it was fairly easy to work around her quirks.

For instance, when my mother started to show more apparent signs of dementia, she often would speak of “little people” that she saw who were trying to steal her stuff.

My mother, who previously had been a bit of a hoarder, decided that the best way to deal with this challenge was to “hide” her things. I quickly figured out that I had to help her in this; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to find important things when we needed them. Still, it was a struggle when she’d “hide” her dentures or her eyeglasses.

However, my mother never tried to hide things outside of her room.

Tony, on the other hand, has never mentioned any “little people.” Yet, every now and then, he seems to communicate that he’s worried something will go missing. What he doesn’t acknowledge is that “Fred,” what we’ve named his Alzheimer’s disease, is the one hiding his own items from him.

The problem is that Tony has the run of the house. Which means that when Fred/Tony hides things, it takes a much longer time to find them.

Oh, and Fred is a bit of a kleptomaniac, too. Imagine my horror when I started to find our cloth face masks turning up in weird places.

Lately, I’ve also had to keep a close eye on the pens that I use. If I’m not alert, I’ll come back to my desk and not have anything to write with. Yet, there next to Tony’s chair is a vast collection of pens, all lined up in an organizational system that only he and Fred can understand. (Current total: 28)

Keys, pens, face masks, socks, Harriet’s nail trimmer. The list gets longer by the day. At the moment, we seem to have misplaced a pair of jeans.

None of these things is all that big a deal, but it does test my patience.

Where possible, I try to anticipate problems before they happen. For instance, I’d unlock the front door each and every time Tony and I would go out to shovel, just in case Tony would accidentally lock the door between the garage and the house. I also used to have my keys in my pocket as a precaution, too.

However, sometimes I just am not on my “A” game. That happened last week when I wanted Tony to help me take the garbage bag to the curb. It was in the 40s that morning, and we had finished getting him ready for the day. He was in a coat and hat because he was heading to the curb. Me, I was still in my PJs.

Somehow, as we were going out into the garage, he was behind me. In that split second that he closed the door, I leapt at the knob. No, please, no.

Locked. We were now locked out of the house. I hadn’t unlocked the front door. I didn’t have my phone to call anyone, and I did not have my keys.

One broken door frame later, and we were back in the house. That was the moment that I finally broke down, my sobs uncontrollable, for a few seconds anyway. Tony never did understand why I was so upset. At least neither one of us was hurt.

No, it’s not easy to care for another human being, particularly one who doesn’t fully understand what’s going on. One more reason that the longer I’m a caregiver, the more I appreciate how hard motherhood must be. My hat’s off to you.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.