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When Christy Ran Out of PTO (Paid Time Off), Her Dad Died Alone

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May 31, 2017

“Christy’s” dad, a long-time gambler and alcoholic, had burned plenty of bridges in his life. “Initially we weren’t close,” Christy said. “My parents divorced when I was 5, and he moved to the West coast.  But he wrote me letters every week and often sent gifts – cowboy boots and hats and seashell necklaces. We had a pen pal bond.”

Christy’s father eventually reentered her life, moving back to her home state. All was forgiven by Christy, in spite of the fact she’d spent two years in a foster home as a child. By the time he had moved back, Christy’s father was alone and in poor health, and the responsibility for his care eventually fell to her. With a family of her own to care for and a full-time job, Christy still found time to make frequent trips to see her father who was living several hours from her in another part of her state. After a second stroke, her dad was admitted to a skilled nursing community just an hour away from Christy’s home.

“I would visit often with my family and try to make his quality of life the best we could. He was in a wheelchair – unable to talk – but we’d take him to a small lake on the outskirts of town to go fishing. It was gut-wrenching, because we didn’t know what to say or do to make him comfortable. His eyes were so sad.”

Christy, who has made a career of caring for others in health care and care community jobs, found herself under greater pressure at work. The more ill her father became, the more frequent were the calls from his care community. Her dad developed breathing problems and a bowel obstruction. “The hardest part for me was that Dad didn’t have anyone but me. He had been physically abusive to my older siblings so they weren’t a part of his life. But I believe in second chances. I always have. Sometimes life just throws you curve balls and you need to deal with them.”

Listen to an interview with Christy

In the last six months of his life, Christy received an estimated 50 emergency calls about her dad. “Every time, I would go,” she said. “At that job, it had been acceptable to give away vacation time to another colleague, so one of my friends gave me some of her vacation hours. Eventually, I had used all of my vacation. My boss then was among the best I’d ever had but, in the end, she said: ‘I feel as though you are taking advantage. You’re always taking time off because you believe your father is going to die. But he never dies.’ ”

So when the call came early one weekday morning that there was yet another emergency, Christy’s manager had had enough. “You’ve taken off so many times. We can’t let you go,” she told Christy. I thought, “Oh well, this will be like all the other times and he’ll pull through. But he didn’t. He died alone in the hospital.”

Years later, Christy said her father’s passing alone still is a “huge regret” that torments her. Christy said she wishes she would have been more forceful, perhaps offering to take off time without pay. “But my family was young, and finances were an issue. My boss was apologetic. I think she felt for me and knew how upset I was. It was hard on her too. I think she realized then she should have let me go.”

In a survey of North American working family caregivers conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, 28 percent of respondents say their job is currently at risk or has been in the past. In addition:

  • 24 percent say they feel their supervisor is unsympathetic about caregiving,
  • 15 percent have been penalized at work,
  • 26 percent report a workplace stigma associated with caregiving, and
  • 27 percent report career growth suffering.

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