What’s in YOUR Caregiving Purse?

Truth be told, I’ve had a thing for purses since the age of four. Back then I used to carry candy, crayons, and a picture of my cat, Mooney. Later, my handbag contained the usual keys, a wallet, a makeup pouch, a cell phone, and a damp washcloth in a plastic bag, (oh, wait, that was my mother). When I became a caregiver though, the contents of this over-the-shoulder life support system quickly expanded with my new reality. Now I carried:

Hastily jotted sticky notes, which sometimes stuck to my butt as I ran errands. One evening, I spent an entire hour grocery shopping with a sign attached to my pants that read “Fleets enema.” Trust me, that’s a back-story you don’t want to hear.

A dozen to-do lists. Actually, it’s pretty normal for me to juggle multiple lists, partly because there’s something so damned satisfying in being able to line through something.

A pound of change in a baggie for the parking meter at my mother’s rehab center. Twenty minutes for a quarter, which is about what my time was worth.

A key ring to make a janitor jealous. It held twelve keys, including my office, house, and car; my parents houses and their safe deposit box, along with an assortment of scan thingies from Stein Mart and TJ Maxx for retail therapy.

My cell phone. Instead of salivating like Pavlov’s dogs every time it rang, my body’s response was a spray of adrenaline up my spine that wore me out. To keep my sanity, I would change ring tones every few weeks.

Tweezers, for pulling inch long chin hairs that literally sprang out of nowhere. What’s with that? And of course, I never noticed them until glancing in my car mirror while sitting in traffic. Who can pluck while everyone’s watching??

A pocket calendar with laughably small squares. Does anyone’s life actually fits in those one-inch boxes??

A brochure for an assisted living facility. I picked one up for my mother, but secretly wondered if it might be better for me, instead.

A relaxation CD from a friend. Great stuff, if I only had time to listen. It’s kind of like a lottery ticket. You have to play to win.

Mooshed up Kleenex for those times I was so exhausted and a stranger would say or do something kind. I’m not a crier, but that would always bring me to hot, messy, nose-running tears.

My parents’ healthcare forms including: HIPPA letters, durable powers of attorney; healthcare surrogate documents; and living wills. I didn’t think it the least bit odd to also carry their DNR’s (Do Not Resuscitate), as well. It is always about being prepared.

A list of my parents’ doctors. Unfortunately, my dad was doing a great job of alienating most of them, so the list was constantly changing. One physician told him he had an anger problem and suggested counseling. When my dad actually called to schedule a session, he got a voicemail recording, and left a string of four letter words that I can never, ever repeat.

Last, but not least, I rarely went anywhere without a twisted sense of humor; because, as we caregivers know, despite all our preparation and planning for the unexpected challenges of this role, sometimes laughter can save us when nothing else will.

So, in the spirit of sharing, tell us what’s in your purse today?




  1. Debra Reed says:

    You covered it so well, Judith. In my case my mom was the one kicked out of her dentist and eye doctors for how rude and ugly she was.Fortunately her internist hung in with her. I was beyond mortified begging each of the aforementioned to reconsider….basically bribing them with a donation to their favorite charity. Her dental and eye situations were quite difficult and I couldn’t bear starting over. My stress filled agonizing begging worked.
    My list of lists and never ending post-its. My little squared calendar I could barely read…all of it….oy!

    • Judith Henry says:

      Oh, Deb-I feel deeply for what you went through with your mom. That kind of stuff can bring us to our knees. Big love and hugs to you.

  2. Ali says:

    I’ve got the laughter quotient down pat. It’s the dichotomy of carrying BABY WIPES and DEPENDS UNDERGARMENTS in the same shoulder bag. Neither of these things belong to me but are MY BEST FRIEND in cases when truly needed !

    • Judith Henry says:

      Oh, Ali – you have absolutely nailed the upside-down world of caregiving. We will keep laughing, because it beats the alternative. Sending you love and hugs.

  3. Harriet Hodgson says:

    I’m carrying a list of my husband’s medical appointments, a novel to read while he is at appointments, and cough drops because his meds dry out his mouth. Also carrying a flashlight in case the power fails. As a writer, I have a notebook to jot down article and book ideas. Carrying aspirin in case I think I’m having a heart attack. And so it goes.

    • Judith Henry says:

      You sound like the consummate caregiver, Harriet. I understand that aspirin, deeply and profoundly. Wish I could just reach out and hug you.

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