19: “Now I Take Care of You”

19: “Now I Take Care of You”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

“Now I Take Care of You”

A Note from Joan

I’d like to introduce you to 91-year-old George Schoengood, a retired college professor. George was happily married for 50 years to Leah. The two of them had moved from New York to Florida when George retired and they were enjoying their golden years with considerable independence until eight years ago when Leah had a stroke.

George and Leah’s son, Matt, is married to my good friend and colleague Elise Silvestri. Matt was 46 years old when his mom suffered the stroke and Matt became the primary caregiver for his parents. Like so many others, Matt got thrown into the role of caregiver when crisis struck, and his life forever changed. It was “initiation by fire” and it’s been a roller coaster ride ever since for Matt (and Elise). Since Matt is an only child, all of the responsibility falls on him.

After Matt’s mom Leah passed away, Matt continued to be responsible for George’s care.

I have always wondered how a person feels when all of a sudden he can no longer live on his own or take care of even the simplest tasks. Since George still has a very sharp mind, I asked Elise and Matt if he would tell our readers about it. He seemed like the perfect person to ask.

Here’s George’s story on receiving care from his son:

Eight years ago my son Matthew became the primary caregiver for my wife and me. In looking back, I didn’t realize how this would redefine my life. You see, it didn’t all happen at once—actually things always felt “normal” to me. I guess I didn’t want to accept the fact that I could no longer take care of myself.

My name is George Schoengood and I’m 91 years old. I spent my life as a college professor and always loved my teaching career. I was married to a wonderful woman for over 50 years.

But everything changed when Leah had her first stroke. My son Matthew had been visiting us in Florida that weekend, a two-day visit that turned into a month-long stay managing her care. Matthew was away from his job and his family.

Even after I lost my beloved Leah, Matthew continued to manage things. I just didn’t realize to what extent.

Don’t get me wrong; I know he does many things for me but I still always thought “Hey, look at me. I can shower and dress myself. I can eat my food without someone helping me. I’m independent.”

What I didn’t realize is HOW much Matthew was doing and actually how dependent I really am on him.

One might think it would have dawned on me when Matthew took away my car keys. I have macular degeneration and my eyesight has been failing for years. I wasn’t very happy when I was told that I could no longer drive, but even when that happened, I still thought that I was okay.

Another reason I considered myself independent was that even though I had lost a good deal of my sight, I didn’t seem to suffer from any dementia. Quite the opposite—doctors and people in my everyday life always comment on how sharp I am, asking me questions about politics and things in the news. I thought, “If I still have my mind, then I’m okay.” I guess I was just deluding myself but then again, all my life, other people have been taking care of the daily details of my life… first my mother, then my wife, and now Matthew.

My family and friends often joked, “George lives like a guest in his own home.”

Then, I began to realize that there are a number of things that I can no longer do, even if I wanted to. For example, I can’t write my own checks, or even read the bank statements. I also can’t go grocery shopping or cook my own food. I can’t even pour my own cup of coffee. I can’t go to the doctor or even get a haircut by myself. The list goes on and on.

In thinking about it, what I have come to realize is that Matthew makes it easy on me to accept his caregiving. He never makes me feel like I’m imposing on him or his family. In many ways, he’s allowing me to keep my dignity and self-esteem. For example, even though I haven’t taught a class in 25 years, he still calls me Dr. Schoengood. We discuss politics and he asks me my opinion on many things that are in the news. He also asks me advice about his own career.

He focuses on the things that I can do and not on the things I can’t do anymore. Things that I am good at like playing the harmonica. I learned how to play as a young boy and my family still asks me to perform for them. My niece, Jo Ann, often brings her clarinet over and we play duets together.

Recently, I fell and broke my hip. I was in rehab and saw how Matthew was running between his job, his home and visiting me every night. I thanked him and he said, “No problem, Dad. You took care of me and now I take care of you.”

It’s that simple and I’m grateful.

~George Schoengood

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