BY DANIEL GAITAN | email@example.com
Christopher Chaney never expected to become a full-time caregiver for his seriously ill mother — or publish a candid book after her death that details their worst moments.
The Tennesseean spent 20 years in executive management before a “brutal downsizing” by his federal employer thrust him into early retirement and into a new role as primary caregiver for “Mama Peaches,” who suffered from severe dementia.
His latest book, Mama Peaches and Me, explores what it means to truly love — and care for — an aging relative. It also incorporates plenty of his mother’s “old school” sense of humor.
Chaney spoke with Life Matters Media about his popular selling book, which has become essential reading for caregivers since its October release. After receiving glowing reviews, Chaney has two more Mama Peaches books in the works.
How did you became an “unexpected” caregiver?
My mom was getting ill and not acting herself in 2014, and after I retired I decided to spend a little more time with her. As time progressed, she got worse. We later found out that she had dementia. She had a brain tumor, and the doctor said it had been growing for some time — years, maybe decades. It had gotten to the point where she was cognitively challenged and required care 24/7.
It was a good thing I did retire — we didn’t have support from family. I literally became a caregiver overnight. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was winging it at first. I was so frustrated, too. My mom moved in with me, but she had always been so feisty and independent. There was a war going on initially.
I learned a little about her condition and made some adjustments. I had to embrace the notion that it was just me, my mom and God. We weren’t going to get help from my siblings and I didn’t know there were resources in our community. My church wasn’t as supportive as I thought, so it was literally just me, my mom and God.
How did the dementia make things even more difficult?
I would get very frustrated with my mom.
I tend to be very organized, so when she moved in with me I had a game plan. Everything was organized. But it just didn’t work.
One of the things I learned along with way: Instead of bringing my mom into my world, I needed to go into her world. She would say things that didn’t make any sense, and we would spend literally an hour just arguing back-and-forth, back-and-forth. Somebody gave me great advice: Don’t argue, just agree and move on with it. I learned the hard way.
Was your mom independent throughout most of her life?
Oh, yes. My mom was very independent, one of those ‘old school’ mamas. She would tell us that when you go to someone’s house, you sit down. When you sit down at the table, you have no choice but to eat what’s served.
She made sure we worked. She had a thing about men not working. So growing up, my mom was a drill sergeant. I would walk around the house with a rag in my hand or a broom, just for the appearance that I was busy.
She never graduated from high school, but she was sharp. She always worked three or four jobs to provide for me and my other three brothers. We didn’t have a great relationship, my mom and I, but in the last couple of years we started to bond.
Instead of bringing my mom into my world, I needed to go into her world.
Did you become closer when she was sick?
When she really got sick, it was beautiful. We connected in such a way that I would have never known.
The doctor said she could have had a stroke, a heart attack or a seizure and die in her apartment alone. I’m very glad that everything worked out so we could spend those precious moments together. After I embraced the idea that it was just me and my mom, I actually learned to enjoy giving her the medications, cooking a hearty meal for her, and the discussions. It was great.
Your mother died in February. How did you deal with that?
It was a total shock to me. She passed away in February.
After we buried her, I just kind of went down and got really depressed. I didn’t want to live.
I had surgery myself, and was preparing and did my will and everything, and basically told God that I had no purpose and was ready to go. But I came out of surgery OK and was numb. I didn’t go out, I just stayed inside.
I didn’t see a purpose for my life, but then I got on the internet one day and was just looking at caregiver (resources) and it inspired me. I decided to go ahead and write the Mama Peaches story and put all the funny stories together.
I wanted a caregiver platform, because I didn’t want anyone to experience what I did – being told overnight that you’re going to be a caregiver and not knowing where to go. So in addition to the funny stores, there’s tips and resources and advice. Just enough to prepare you for the unknown.