Long Distance Caregiver - Coping With Emotions
By Catherine Murphy, R.N.

Being a long distance caregiver has a unique set of problems. I have been on both sides of the coin, and know that the emotional drain of being too far from our loved one to be of direct help, can be devastating. How can one describe the fear that envelops you when the phone rings? Or the shrill of the bell, that you know and wait to come, which tells of yet another crisis with your loved one? It is something you learn to live with every day. However, you never are ready for that call. I understand because I have been there. I have been both long distance, and now full time primary caregiver. We all feel the same emotions; guilt, anger, frustration, and isolation. It is just that they differ as our individual caregiver roles differ.

As long distance caregiver, I had to struggle with my guilt of not being there all the time. Or not being able to ensure that proper care was provided on a regular basis. And while I learned to deal with these issues, I think I was never really was comfortable with it. Many times I felt isolated in that I would learn of a change after the fact, and usually after I could have been of any help. That leads to a sense of being a fragmented part of the family. And eventually, it is easy to see how that family member might not offer any advice or help at all. Or if they do offer it, often it is not very practical in the eyes of the primary caregiver because "you aren't here, how do you know what mom or dad or granny need?" And, in time this fragmentation can and often does lead to anger, with siblings, which is the last thing that should happen. This is a time when families need to bond closer together and share both the good as well as bad.

Now, as primary caregiver, I have had to face just that same thing. I have had to look at my siblings and understand that while they can't be here, it does not diminish the concern they may have for our father. In this light, I would like to mention a few things that all family members can do for each other to help ensure that proper care is provided to their loved one. As long distance caregiver, you have an opportunity to offer a much-needed respite to your sibling. It may be difficult, but arrange for regular visits so that the primary caregiver has a break. There is a law now, which allows you to be able to get time off work. It is called the Family Friendly Leave Act, and was signed into law by President Clinton. A week or two several times a year will be a wonderful gift to your sibling, and allow you to be an active member of the "Care Team".

The primary caregiver has an obligation as well. We need to keep lines of communication open with those family members away from home. Offer regular updates on our loved ones condition and include them as much as possible in the decision making process. Remembering we do not have to carry the whole load and letting other family know their input is needed is essential. And, it will go a long why to reducing the fear of a telephone call late in the night.

Catherine Murphy, R.N., has been caregiver to both parents. She can be contacted at katesdrm@att.net or visit her web site at home.att.net/~katesdrm/

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