Here’s a snippet from a recent phone conversation I had with my mother, who speaks with a thick New England accent.
Mom: “Yesterday I took Daddy for his checkup with the doctor. The doctor asked Daddy how he was doing. Daddy pointed his finger at me and said, ‘I think she’s had it with me.’”
Me: “Why would Daddy say that?”
Mom: “I told the doctor I was very tired and maybe not as patient as I should be. I said I just needed a good night’s rest and I would be fine. Dr. Nguyen told me I needed to go to a bar (pronounced baah).”
Me: “What?? He told you to go to a bar? Man, I like this doctor.”
Mom: No, no, not a baah—a spa!
We had a good laugh over that one, but it got me thinking that might be exactly what my mother needed. She hasn’t had a real break from caregiving—not one night spent without tending to my father’s needs—unless you count the three nights my father was in the hospital last year.
I’m embarrassed that I haven’t thought of this idea myself.
Getting my mother to leave my father was going to be a challenge. We all know no one can take care of my father like she can, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve a break now and then.
I began gently approaching the idea of a break for my mother on our morning phone calls. My tactic was to invite my mother’s sister to the spa weekend too.
My mother is very close to her sister and for many years they spent winters in Myrtle Beach., S.C. The sisters would shop and lunch, and the husbands would play golf. It was a sad year when my father became too ill to make the trek down South anymore. Essentially, my mother lost visits with her best friend.
I felt like we hit the jackpot when I found a hotel and spa that was a short drive from my parents’ house as well as the home of my cousin, my aunt and uncle’s only daughter.
My uncle could stay with my cousin while my mother and her sister spent the weekend at the spa. I made the reservation hoping I would not need to cancel.
My aunt was game and my uncle offered to chauffeur the ladies if they wanted to go shopping. Now all we needed was to provide care for my father. Both of my sisters offered to stay with Dad and do some special things with him while Mom went for her spa weekend.
It was all set. Imagine my delight when my mother said yes. I was even more surprised when she said she’d like a massage. My 80-year-old mother has had only one massage in her life, on a visit to see us in California.
I realized with some sadness that outside of holding my father’s hand and a hug from her kids, my mother has not been touched in many years.
Spa weekend arrived. I even ordered some fall jackets to be waiting for the ladies upon their arrival.
One of their excursions included a trip to a favorite department store. Being the frugal New Englander, my aunt’s purchases occur only when she “gets a great deal.” She told me my mother bought a few things but that she herself didn’t see any great deals.
I explained to my aunt that my mother’s motivation these days it not about a great deal but about having the freedom to shop in a department store for herself without the clock ticking for her to get back to relieve my sister from caring for my father.
I’m forever grateful to my dad’s wise doctor, who took the time to recognize and support the family caregiver.
I’m also grateful for what this spa trip helped me see—the losses my mother has experienced as a caregiver. I am filled with love and pride for a woman who handles all of it with such grace.
Do you know a family caregiver who could use a spa day? I encourage you to do whatever possible to see that it happens.