We are all caregivers.
No matter one’s background or circumstance, almost everyone becomes a caregiver at some point in time. Few feel well prepared or up to the task. At CJE SeniorLife, many staff members are caregivers, facing challenges and uncertainty just as you do, in planning for older loved ones.
Here we share some of our stories, hoping to inform, inspire and support readers on their own caregiving journeys.
Rachael manages a mid-size department at CJE SeniorLife. She is married and lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and four children. Two sisters live downtown.
Both of her parents have had serious – but very different – medical issues.
“My children were young and in school when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was working full time back then. I guess you could say that my father was deep in denial. He was not coping with the changes cancer brought to their lives. It seemed like somebody had to step in to manage their household and make sure that my mother was getting proper care.
At that point, I decided to make some changes in my life. I left my job to become my mother’s full time caregiver, as well as being a wife, mother, sister and friend. I drove my kids to school, took my mother to her medical appointments, did the shopping and errands for everyone, calmed my family . . . basically, I did whatever was required to keep our two households moving along. Each of my sisters did what they could to lend a hand, but without a doubt, I carried the load.
Time passed and my father started to change. He became angry and neglectful. He often seemed on the verge of violence. When I was finally able to convince him to see a doctor, we learned (to no one’s surprise) that he had symptoms of early stage Alzheimer’s Disease. His illness progressed quickly.
This had to be the most stressful, emotional and complicated chapter of my life. Although I was aware of what I needed to do and had plenty of support and guidance from my old CJE colleagues, I felt lost. All my professional know-how and objectivity flew out the window. These were my parents and I didn’t seem able to help or protect them. It was a dark time.
I thought that I should be able to do everything for my family. And we limped along, doing well enough, until my mother fell during the night. My father ignored – or didn’t hear – her cries. He didn’t call anyone for help. My mother was still on the floor when I arrived the next morning. She was cold, wet, angry, ashamed . . . and in a mild state of shock. Although she weighed next to nothing and was light as a feather, I couldn’t pick her up. I called 911 and rode alongside her in the ambulance.
By then it was clear that my parents needed more in-home assistance. After much debate, my sisters and I decided to hire an in-home caregiver. It wasn’t easy to convince my parents, but after much coaxing, they relented. It took awhile to find just the right person, but finally we found the right match. From the moment Geri walked in, she brought sanity, safety and a sense of calm to our homes. She stayed with our family beyond my mother’s death, for a total of eight years. To this day, she calls to check on her “girls” – and occasionally shares the holidays with us.
Once Geri began caring for my parents, I was able to return to work and restore some balance to our lives. Time passed. My children grew up – left for college – I was able to have the surgery I put off while caring for my parents – we downsized and moved. Life had sharper focus once again.
Looking back on this chapter, I am amazed by the power of the caregiving experience. I learned that I was not a superwoman – I was not able to do it alone. All things considered, my family was lucky. We had a strong bond, trusting relationships, expert and sensitive medical care, clear directives from my parents and the means to afford outside help. My parents’ last chapters allowed me to play another meaningful role in their lives. The caregiving journey left me with vivid memories and life lessons in love, compassion and the meaning of family.
Although my parents are now deceased, not a day passes without thoughts of them in both healthy and critically ill days. They continue to teach me how to live a full life.
I never thought I would be a caregiver so soon. My parents are healthy, and in wonderful relationships with caring spouses. My husband's parents are not so fortunate. As my mother-in-law started to decline and need more and more help, it became apparent that someone would need to take the lead in coordinating her care. Divorced for over twenty years, her good friends were always there for her. But, good friends can only do some much. Looking back, as we (her two children and their wives) began to assist with little things while juggling our early years of establishing our careers, courting, marriage and children, we didn't realize the scope or how intertwined our lives would become. As the little jobs turned into big jobs in a very short period of time, the budgeting and bill paying, home repairs, medical and in-home care, and finally the realization that moving Mom is the best solution for her care and our piece of mind were all difficult. I have worked at CJE SeniorLife for over ten years and when my family was in crisis, we hired Your Eldercare Consultants to help all of us with the transition. Periods of crisis make your appreciate a good routine and recognize the strong team that you have created among your close inner circle of family, friends and care providers.