Denver, CO — My job is not to count her underwear as she loads them into the laundry basket. Each week, I notice there are more Depends in the garbage can when I come by to help with laundry and shopping. Recently she’s been sick. She insists she’s fine, just a little weaker than usual. The paper towels she insists on using instead of Kleenex are piled up on her coffee table and the counter in the kitchen. I make sure it’s okay to throw them away before I start tossing them in the trash. We’ve butted heads on things like this before — me the consummate thrower-awayer, she the keeper-tracker of all things usable in her tiny apartment.
She asks if I could go to get her groceries alone. Sure, I tell her. By now I know most of what she likes and will eat, having been down this pickle aisle many times before. I’m spending the same amount of time with her but more and more of it doing the work alone.
I check to make sure I can read her grocery list since it will be useless to call once I’m at the store. We go over it. Nectarines, peaches in juice not lite syrup, cottage cheese. Usually there is some kind of gruyere, possibly a roast beef sandwich from the deli. I can’t read the last item on her list. And then, neither can she.
“You don’t remember what you wrote?” I pull her reusable shopping bags over my shoulder. She buys the same thing every week — same brand of yogurt, Breyers chocolate chip mint ice cream. Her bird makes a racket, somehow deciding this is when he needs more attention. She wrinkles her brow and puts on her reading glasses which are full of crumbs from hanging around her neck during breakfast. She pulls my arm closer to look at the list.
“Huh. I don’t remember.”
“It looks like you wrote ‘tractor’ — do you need a tractor?” I smile because we both can see it does look like she wrote “tractor”. Suddenly a spark goes off and she remembers.
“Thermometer! It says thermometer.”
“Got it,” I grab a pen off the table to clarify her note. She takes her reading glasses off and cleans them with the paper towel she keeps stuffed up her sleeve.
“What happened to the thermometer you had? Did it break?”
She looks up from her glasses, regarding me seriously.
“No, I used it on the cat!”
“So you don’t want to use it again?” I try to hold my face non-judgmentally.
“No,” she smirks as she stuffs the paper towel back up her sleeve. “Get me another one.”
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If you are shopping for someone else, you may have noticed that it’s hard to get things right every time you head to the store. Preferences change without warning, and there’s over-vigilance about the number of plastic bags you come home with or which shelf the orange juice goes on so that the old one is used first.
Here are some ideas to make sure you don’t come home with a tractor:
- Know your limit, play within it as they say in the lottery. Meaning, as much as it makes sense to buy the 16-pack of toilet paper, if space in someone’s home is limited or funds are over-monitored, this frugal thinking-ahead on your part may backfire. More than once, I’ve gotten an earful when I strayed from the list. Of course, we only have a finite amount of time in the day so maybe you stock your trunk with some of the essential non-perishables: several 4-packs of toilet paper which can be grabbed at a moments notice.
- Keep finances separate. Unpaid family caregivers spend on average almost $7000/year on out-of-pocket costs like groceries. As much as it may seem easier to run all the groceries together with your mom’s, keeping your finances separate both gives you a better idea of how much you’re spending and prevents you from taking a hit to your own resources down the road.
- Encourage ongoing list-age. Keeping a notebook on the kitchen counter may work to get the person to write down things they run out of. If keeping a list isn’t going to fly, consider taking out the trash and recycling before going to the store to get a firsthand look at what was used in the past week or so. Also, most grocery stores now allow you to create an online shopping list that you can see from an app on your phone. You know how you put in your phone number to get fuel rewards? Well, when you log in, you’ll see recently purchased items which you can either add to your cart or add to a specific list to be accessed later.
- Take advantage of technology. Grocery stores have come a long way since I was a kid (I can’t believe I just wrote that) and you had to write the price of the item on it with an oil pencil. With some stores (ahem, Whole Foods), you can order online and pick up your already-bagged groceries at the front of the store. Another way to make things easier? Have the groceries delivered to you, especially if you’re working full-time. Then, voila!, all you have to do is bring them over. (Here are some delivery services in Denver).
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Western Care Partners provides navigation through the services and emotions that come with caring for a loved one who is getting older. We explain resources, facilitate family conversations and provide guidance through dealing with the situations that come up as a loved one needs more help. Contact us for more information: 720-675-9902 or www.westerncarepartners.com.