National Caregiver Month, what does that even mean? Throughout the year, more than forty million people care for a family member. More often than not, the person receiving the care is elderly. If your only grasp of multi-generational living is the Waltons, well, it’s not always that rosy a picture. Sure, the story of three generations living and loving under one roof was a huge hit. Who didn’t drop everything on Thursday night to watch? However, in today’s reality, multi-generation households often mean one grandparent or the other or both are troubled by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease, stroke or heart issues.
Family members are then pressed into action. Most caregivers are women. They are wives, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters and nieces. A few husbands, fathers, sons, grandsons, brothers and nephews pitch in for good measure. The only payment they receive are the smiles of appreciation from their loved one.
Why do these brave women and men deserve a month of recognition? And by the way, who says they’re all that brave anyway? Well, to steal from an old saying – you can’t truly understand the life of a caregiver until you walk a mile in her shoes.
After she developed Alzheimer’s Disease, my dad was my mother’s caregiver. In Mom’s case, it was a slow and steady decline over twenty years. The first ten years were difficult. The last ten were something else. As Mom’s infirmities worsened, Dad developed back problems and then a post-surgery infection. It is not at all uncommon for caregivers to fall ill with something or other. Stress can be quite devious.
Dad’s prognosis of six to eight weeks to heal stretched out to eight months. Then there was another year and a half to fully recover and get back on track. His caretaking days were over. Mom needed round-the-clock care and moved to assisted living. Since he couldn’t drive and could barely walk, I moved in with Dad to help. I can only describe those first few months as drinking from a firehose.
There are as many scenarios as there are families. Your loved one can have physical difficulties, cognitive issues or both. The problems can be mild or severe. Onslaught can be fast or slow but, in most cases, the situation doesn’t improve with age. Although, my mother did not recover (you don’t recover from Alzheimer’s Disease), my dad did. No matter what seemingly never-ending ups and downs, caretaking requires constant adjustment to an ever-changing new normal.
Some caregivers find that their new normal includes the unimaginable. No one ever expects to help a spouse or a parent shower, dress, use the bathroom or eat. Although rarely discussed, helping with these simple daily tasks is quite real. Add frequent trips to the doctor, pharmacy and emergency room and you’ll understand why the days are never ending.
Oh, and by the way, most caregivers have a day job, full or part time, along with caring for their loved one. Morning comes early and bedtime is late. There are no days off. Finding yourself exhausted, on deadline and the verge of tears at eleven o’clock at night is part of the new normal.
Some families, like mine, have the good fortune to be able to add professional help to the mix. Others go it alone. My heart goes out to all the families that go it alone. I can not imagine.
Hug a caregiver this month and bon appétit!
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8-12 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
8-12 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup or more dry white wine
2 cups or more chicken broth
12-16 ounces baby spinach or kale
Lemon or lime wedges, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer in the oven for 10 minutes.
Put the oregano and spices in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Sprinkle the chicken with half of the spice mix. Place the chicken, skin-side down in the hot pan. Return the pan to the oven and roast the chicken at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.
While the chicken roasts, put the vegetables in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining spice mix and toss to coat and combine.
Turn the chicken, scatter the vegetables in the pan and add the wine and broth.
Return the pan to the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Adding more wine and broth if necessary, continue roasting until the chicken is cooked through and golden and the vegetables are tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes more.
While the chicken braises, cook the rice according to package directions.
Remove the chicken from the pan, lightly cover and reserve.
A few handfuls at a time, add the spinach to the pan and toss to combine and wilt. Add a little broth if necessary and return to the pan to the oven for 3-5 minutes or until piping hot.
Transfer the vegetables to a deep serving dish or individual shallow bowls, top with chicken and serve with basmati rice and lemon or lime wedges.
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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018