I begin the new year as an orphan. For the first time ever, I no longer have living parents or in-laws.
My mother-in-law died in skilled nursing care August 29, 2015. And my 92-year-old father was the last of our folks to pass away this past August.
For nearly two years, I’ve shared with you the ups and downs of my family caregiving experience. My monthly blogs covered the gamut from the physical toll of caregiving to the heartache that goes with watching someone who cared for you no longer able to care for themselves.
When I first began writing, I felt ill-equipped to occupy this space since I wasn’t actually living with the senior I was helping. But I soon discovered the challenges, fulfillment and blessings of caregiving are universal, whether you’re a long-distance caregiver or your senior is just next door.
Thank you for reading and sharing your own stories and advice. I suspect you helped me more than I helped you.
Georgene and her dad during a holiday celebration two years ago.
I went into this stage of life with years of experience working for a senior care company. It’s not that I thought I knew it all. But I did think I would be better prepared to handle the ups and downs of caregiving. I was wrong. Here are five aspects of caregiving that caught me off-guard. If you can relate, I’d love to know your thoughts:
- The guilt was ever-present. It seems that nearly every week brought some new level of guilt. I felt guilty my husband and I weren’t able to keep our parents in their home. There were times I even felt like a failure. Even now that my father and mother-in-law have passed away, not all the guilt is gone. Sometimes I even feel guilty I’m not missing them more. Seeing both of them out of pain has left me with a feeling of relief. But that, too, can generate guilt.
- It was, at times, heartbreaking. I underestimated the emotional toll of watching someone I loved slowly decline. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that this was part of the cycle of life, it was devastating. At the end of their lives, we can only do so much for those we love. Seeing someone look to me for help, and being unable to fix their problems, was so often heart-rending for me.
- Caregiving could be expensive. We didn’t provide regular financial assistance for our loved ones as many caregivers do, but there were other costs I hadn’t anticipated such as travel and lodging. The expenses just seemed to mount here, there and everywhere. Our car hit a deer, we broke a windshield, we sustained hail damage on a vehicle. Caregiving is an expensive proposition.
- It’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. Before our parents got really sick, in my mind I had compared helping aging family members with raising my son. While there are similarities, it’s not the same. Caring for loved ones who cared for you is a unique dynamic that is fraught with pitfalls. Parents – and grandparents – never quit viewing you as their children. Changing roles can create tensions and stress. I wrote several blogs about how difficult it was to take care of my own health. Physical fatigue, combined with emotional stress, takes a toll.
- Caregiving was life-affirming. In spite of it all, I hope and pray that our parents knew how much we loved them and appreciated the life they so willingly gave to us. Helping those we love was both life-affirming and fulfilling for me and my husband. I’m not sure I expected that.
It may sound as though I’m saying goodbye. Let’s call it taking a break. I’m no longer on the front lines. But, as statistics reveal, that can change on any given day. Women, especially, spend much of our lives caregiving. So, until we meet again, take care of yourself. Your life, and those you’re caring for, depends on it.