It’s hard to believe that I have been going to visit my grandmother nightly in the nursing home for one full year already. I remember this time last year so vividly—her condition was poor, and the situation was touch and go for those first few months. But my grandmother is one determined woman, and one year later, here we are.
Caregiving is full of peaks and valleys. There are the weeks that offer so much promise and hope, and then there are the weeks that are so difficult to get through that there are no words to convey the sadness you feel surviving them. I try to focus on those good moments—however few and far between—when she has a little lucidity, or she’s at least resting comfortably and lost in her thoughts. It’s the days when there’s not much I can do to comfort her other than hold her hand and tell her I love her that are the most challenging.
Sadly, there’s no guidebook for navigating end of life care. You never feel like you’ve said enough or done enough for your loved one. There’s just a lot of guessing (and second-guessing) yourself as you try to ease your loved ones fears. One thing I know has helped my grandmother is creating a sense of routine for her. Even though she can’t tell one day from the next or morning from night, she knows that my presence will bring her peace (and, usually, a meal). With each nightly visit, I notice more and more how significant my timing is to her. A few minutes too late, she starts to panic. A half-hour too early, and I will be bombarded with questions about dinner for the duration of the delay.
This realization about the importance of routine to my grandmother with dementia made me wonder about its meaning in my own life. I don’t consider myself to be a person with a set daily schedule. Yet, in the early days of the pandemic, the lack of structure in my days affected me. I used to feel like I needed to break my routine in order to take a break, but in reality, I’ve noticed that I thrive on whatever loose routine I keep for myself.
Perhaps the importance of having a routine is not intended solely for caregivers and those we care for, but rather at any stage of life to feel like our best and most productive version of ourselves.