Family Caregivers Month 2013 – What Caregivers Go Through

Hospice Education, MISC

With a record and growing number of adult children in the U.S. taking on the role of caregiver for one or both parents or other family members, November is National Family Caregivers Month to recognize family, friends, and neighbors who “dedicate countless hours providing care to their relatives and loved ones.” As one who cared virtually single-handedly for my father for four years, I find great comfort and appreciation in this. If you are caring for someone, there are many useful resources available to you, such as Acknowledging You Need A Break, Respite Care, and much more.

Caring for an elderly, frail, and ailing parent can be the most fulfilling — and frustrating — experience of a lifetime. When my father, widowed ten years before, could no longer live independently, he researched his options. Turns out, I was the best one. I was single. I had a strong and loving church community. I lived half a mile from a 4-star senior resort in a beautiful community. I was employed by a family-friendly company with a supportive boss and colleagues. Most importantly, I fiercely loved my father and accepted this “assignment” with an eager and willing heart.

It took me months to straighten out his finances, which had crumbled into disrepair. At his first doctor’s appointment for a routine physical required by the senior resort, I learned he had dementia and heart disease. That was a sad, bad day. When I learned his older brother died, I wrestled with telling him. The brother’s son, my father’s favorite nephew, wanted to speak with him, so I got them together on the phone. He expressed sympathy to his nephew, they chatted and hung up. Then it hit him. My father realized that he was the sole surviving sibling from a family of seven children. “I’m next,” he said, and crumbled into tears. These are the things you can’t anticipate when you take on the role of caregiver, and they hit you hard.

Over the course of those four years, I took my father to the barber shop, out to dinner, and made sure his bathroom was stocked. I took him to doctor and dentist appointments and to church and the park until he was too frail (another sad, bad day). I made sure he always had a handkerchief in his pocket and considered his needs before my own. I left work early every Wednesday to take him to “Happy Hour” at the senior resort. I left work early, whenever I got a call from the senior resort that he had fallen. I rushed him to the emergency room with pneumonia four times and slept on a chair in his hospital room. He was always in the back of my mind and I lived in fear that I would die before him, not because I was afraid of death, but because I was afraid to leave him.

My story is not unique. This is what many caregivers go through, and they’re often stoic, hiding their pain and making light of their burden. So, please join Heart ‘n Home in celebrating National Family Caregivers Month. If you know a caregiver, take a shift, insist on it if you have to (caregivers are notorious for rejecting help). If you are a caregiver, take your friends up on their offers. Do something nice for yourself, even for just an hour a month. Finally, take advantage of the available resources, including Heart ‘n Home. We offer support groups, education, and professionals with whom you can talk. Our mission is “affirming life every day, every time” and we extend that to caregivers every day, every time.

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