Treats for the Caregiver

Those of you who are regular followers of this blog know well the role that eating out has played in our lives. When sheltering began in March, that became a thing of the past. In late May, restaurants reopened with capacity limited to 50% occupancy and often with reduced serving hours. Kate and I began to eat out again, two or three nights a week and lunch on Sunday. That was still a far cry from eating out for lunch and dinner seven days of the week, but it was a significant relief from being completely homebound.

For us, the primary benefit of this habit was keeping us socially active, something that is often a problem for people “Living with Alzheimer’s.” We had developed quite a social network that went beyond the friends and acquaintances we encountered. We also developed friendships with servers, owners, and managers. They have been priceless members of our “team” of supporters.

When Kate and I tested positive for COVID, our routine changed dramatically. Kate, of course, has been in bed most of the time since she returned from the hospital nine weeks ago. Although we have caregivers seven days a week from about noon until 7:00, I’ve only eaten out a few times since then. That was because the caregivers come around lunch and leave around dinner, and those are times when I have been helping with the meals for Kate.

This past Wednesday I did something different. I took a late lunch and went to one of our favorite restaurants. Until March, we had lunch there every Tuesday for more than six years. When I arrived, I asked if the young lady who had served us most often was on duty. She was, but her tables were already full. I told the hostess, who was new and didn’t know me, that would be all right.

After being seated at a table with another server, I discovered that the server I had asked about was taking care of the table next to me. When she saw me, she stopped at my table. We talked briefly, and I explained why we hadn’t been there the past couple of months. To me, that brief exchange was energizing.

Not long after that, the shift manager noticed me and came over to the table to say hello. It wasn’t long before he asked if he could take a seat. That began an almost hour-long conversation. He’s an interesting man who came to the US from Romania. By chance, Kate and I had met his wife and daughter at the restaurant several years ago. His wife is Puerto Rican and a major in the Air Force. I was fascinated with his story of how they met and how they juggle their lives around their different careers as well as the cultural differences between them.

It turned out to be an enriching break from my daily routine as a caregiver. I had recognized before we got the virus that experiences like this were becoming less  important for Kate than for me. The benefit I receive from social contacts is more valuable at this stage of her Alzheimer’s.

I will say, however, that I am not dependent on eating out to satisfy my need for social engagement. I keep up with several college friends and a former professor by phone and email. I have a list of others with whom I often have lengthy phone calls. I have continued my longstanding involvement with our local United Way as well as the foundation for our largest health system, our local symphony orchestra, and Rotary. I am also a member of a men’s coffee club that is a local support group meeting via Zoom twice a month.

I am not as socially involved as I used to be, but interpersonal relationships still play a significant role in keeping me going. Even little things make a difference. Yesterday, I took care of a small responsibility as a member of the only church committee on which I continue to serve. It’s the birthday committee. Each of us calls 8-10 people a month on their birthdays. I’ve done this for 5-6 years and occasionally think about passing it along to someone else, but it’s another pleasant social experience. I think I’ll stick with it.

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