Joco Opinion

Caregiving 101 — When on the receiving end of care, things get personal very quickly

Please don’t tell my mother this, but ... I don’t fold my underwear.

When Mom does the laundry, she always folds the underwear. She taught her children to fold the underwear, and I folded the underwear while I lived in her home. There were neat, tidy stacks of folded underwear in each of the underwear drawers of our six family members.

But when I moved out, and I was the one doing my own laundry, I found it tedious and time-consuming to fold the underwear. I started my own system of non-folding and non-stacking — simply shoving the underwear haphazardly into the underwear drawer. No neat and tidy stacks, just a jumble, but I was fine with it. I never looked back.

Until now.

Recently I’ve found myself on the caregivee side of caregiving. I’ve had to rely on people to do things for me. Things get personal. People get into your stuff. It can be embarrassing.

Friends offer to clean your house, and you’re discomfited at them seeing your cluttered bathroom counter. People bring meals, and you’re self-conscious about your messy kitchen. And yeah, people offer to do your laundry and put it away for you, but you’re mortified that they’ll discover — you don’t fold your underwear!

As a caregiver, these observations gave me pause.

When my father-in-law (FIL) moved in with us, he was bedridden. He needed help to sit up, to eat, to get out of bed.

My husband handled most of the intimate care, like bathing. But when he was away, FIL had no choice but to rely upon me for help. It had to be humiliating the first time FIL needed his daughter-in-law to help him with toileting.

Beyond that, I was doing his laundry, paying his bills, making and taking phone calls for him —really getting into his personal business. FIL’s privacy was invaded, big time.

Imagine yourself in FIL’s position. Would you like someone watching you 24-7? Observing every habit? Noticing every shortcut? Sorting your dirty laundry? Folding your underwear? Monitoring your every movement, word, bite and breath?

FIL had been completely independent just a few weeks prior. Now he needed us to dress him, feed him, empty his urinal, read him his mail. We encountered things that were private and confidential to FIL.

There were some awkward moments, but we soldiered through. A combination of respect, matter-of-factness and humor minimized embarrassment.

That was the approach my friends took as well. When they came to my aid after a recent illness, I needn’t have worried about my underwear drawer after all. They didn’t bat an eye at the piles of junk on my counters or the bed-head condition of my hair. They brought food, cleaned house, shared stories and left me smiling.

Caregiving 101 lesson of the day: To give good care, you respect the person foremost. You matter-of-factly accomplish the task at hand but in a way that is comfortable to your patient, using your tools of compassion and humor.

P.S. I know you’re going to read this, Mom, so I apologize for the not-folding thing. But if it’s any consolation, I do still adhere to that other underwear rule you had — you know the one — because you never know when you might be in an accident and be taken to the hospital and what would the doctors think if they saw you wearing holey underwear?