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Family Caregiving: Sharing the Work

By Rita L. Calderon

(Page 2 of 3)

Yet there’s a positive flipside:  the caregiver’s journey can be rewarding and meaningful, enriching our spiritual and emotional growth.  My own mother gets more beautiful to me, at 89 with Alzheimer’s.  It’s a beauty that, like her gait, moves out very slowly and furtively from deep inside, its voice teetering, yet I hear its essence loud and clear.  We can only experience the more positive side of caregiving if we do it with thought and planning.  So plan now:  find a quiet time and space, turn off the phones and TV, turn on nice music, breathe deeply and start a list.

  1. Prioritize Work.  List all the tasks you do for them and all that remain to be done, from laundry to cooking to medical appointments to financial planning to calling nursing homes to sitting catatonic staring at the TV together.  Imagine the positive:  who can you visualize doing what?  Prepare to delegate.

  2. Human resources:  Family.  Look at each family member (including those you’d rather not).  Some obstacles are fixable, some not—geographic distance, emotional distance, downright loathing.  The brother who breezes in once a year – the sister who’s always said “No” to everything.  Some family members jump right in to help; some families actually grow closer from the crisis.  Caregivers without siblings must cast their nets wider.  Some caregivers are spouses who need help themselves, but are too proud to ask.  Turn the page on the past: new chapter.  Write or call, but find a way to state nicely and firmly that things have changed.  Be ready to discuss #1 above – who can do what.  Remember, this is interactive; discuss the issues fairly, considering their situation and asking them to consider yours.

  3. Human Resources:  Friends and neighbors.  I was totally overwhelmed with caregiver stress.  My mother has Alzheimer’s and had recent surgery.  The family was small, my mother isolated.  One day, an old friend asked, “Can I come see your mom?” I stared blankly just like the executive talking about her husband.  Mother was behaving oddly and looking rather strange.  But the visit was a godsend; don’t underestimate the importance of moral support.  Friends and neighbors can be a lifeline.

  4. Community Resources.  Check out non-profit organizations and municipal agencies appropriate for the situation, such as the Department for the Aging, the American Alzheimer’s Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, American Heart Association, Cancer Care, etc.  Among services offered are informational newsletters, educational forums, telephone hotlines, support groups and teleconferences.


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