By Cheryl Huguenor, Guest Author
As a staff member of Live Oak Adult Day Services, I help care for many seniors here each day, but I am not a caregiver in my private life. My husband is healthy, my sons are adults, and my parents and grandparents, sadly, are gone now. My dad died quite suddenly in his forties. My mom was just in her sixties, still working, fully independent, and busy as a bee when she suffered a stroke. I remember the dawning realization that I was about to become a caregiver. My siblings gathered with me around her hospital bed, and we planned out a schedule for each of us to assist our beloved mom during her upcoming hospital discharge and recuperation. We were actually grateful to have the chance to give back to mom.
Then, in the space of four days, she had several more strokes and slipped away from us. I was prepared to care for her, and I never got the chance to do so. The grief has become less raw over the years, but never really disappears. I realize now how rare it was that my siblings were so willing to join me as her caregivers. I see so many Live Oak caregivers who strive valiantly to watch over an older parent or spouse, often while juggling work and their own medical needs and appointments. They rouse their relatives from bed in the morning, bathe and dress them, walk with them, prepare meals, transport them to and from the doctor and adult day care and are sometimes the sole person to handle all of these responsibilities.
It breaks my heart to hear these caregivers say, “My other family members won’t lift a finger to help. Because I’m helping mom/dad/spouse, they assume I can do it forever and they’re off the hook, but I’m so tired.” It does not seem to matter whether the other relatives live nearby or out of state, the pattern is all too familiar. A typical scenario involves a male relative who insists there is no way he is helping mom take a shower, so he leaves that and all the rest of the tasks to his sister.
My feeling is that if you cannot do the hands-on duties or you cannot bear to see your parent in such a state, then you should be contributing financially in some way to the needs of the parent and caregiver. Or they say, “He/she doesn’t recognize me, so I don’t visit.” I always respond, “He may not know who you are, but you know who he is.”
To be sure, there are families who share these responsibilities, and I have met some of them. It is never too late to step up and offer a hand to the caregiver of your loved one. Caregivers appreciate even a precious hour or two of time alone, or a chance to attend a wedding rather than have to stay home with a bedridden parent, or someone to sit with mom and dad to look at old photos and reminisce.
Cheryl Huguenor is the program director at Live Oak Adult Day Services in Gilroy. For more information visit liveoakadultdaycare.org.