I did not provide 24/7 care for my mother during her final years with Alzheimer’s. But I know of many families who do. Being responsible for the care of someone else is daunting, especially for family caregivers. Ask any parent who has endured sleepless nights with their child.
I vividly remember sleeping on the floor of my ten year-old daughter’s room one night. She woke me up complaining of leg pain and some tingling. At 2am all I could think of as a possible explanation was spinal meningitis! I grabbed my pillow, reassured her it was probably just “growing pains,” and if she felt anything else to wake me up, not that I could sleep anyway. She was fine in the morning, and I was as relieved as I was exhausted.
The distinct difference between caring for your child and your parent is the expectation that your child will be fine and grow into adulthood. Your medically-compromised parent or other adult in your care may not “be fine” ever again.
What starts out as a full time care commitment of a newborn gradually evolves, as the child learns to feed themselves, dress without help, walk to the bus stop, etc. Naturally parental care diminishes as a child’s skills “improve with age.”
Not so when a family takes on the care of an aging parent or other adult. Depending on the medical circumstances, they are not likely to “improve with age.”
What starts out as a part time care commitment of an elderly adult, gradually evolves for family caregivers, as the older adults require increasingly more help with self care, transportation to appointments, cooking, laundry, and other daily activities.
Family Caregivers Are There “From Cradle to Grave”
My mother had a multitude of phrases, some of which didn’t make any sense. But I always understood the message with her often-repeated phrase, “from cradle to grave.”
Although I was young, I remember my grandfather living with us for a short time. He had dementia and other disabilities from multiple strokes. My father and uncle were making arrangements to move their dad into a more reputable facility after my mother witnessed his nursing home caregiver slap him! During the interim, Grandpa moved in with us.
I was too young to grasp the specifics, but I certainly remember the tense atmosphere at our house while he lived with us, while we were his family caregivers. I distinctly recall snippets of dialogue between my mom or dad and my grandfather. They were always calm, repeating questions or directions until Grandpa complied or answered.
But I also remember overhearing my parents talking with each other about my grandfather’s situation. Apparently, dad was very busy launching something big at work and felt he had “abandoned” Mom with the responsibility of caring for his dad. I couldn’t hear my mom’s reply, but knowing her as I did, she would have been reassuring and accepting of the responsibility on behalf her husband’s father.
I definitely understood and felt the impact of her expression “from cradle to grave.” My grandfather passed away from another stroke after a few months.
Giving Back to Family Caregivers
Decades later, my dad suffered a moderate stroke, launching my mother into her nine-year role as his selfless caregiver. Although he described her as his “task master,” her encouragement peppered with her strong will kept him mobile “until the very end.”
During those years, my mother was increasingly adamant that should she ever need long term, care she did not want to live with me. Mom had witnessed and experienced first hand the toll on family caregivers, and she refused to put me in those shoes. “Just find me someplace nice, and come visit me,” she often said.
And when the time came, I did exactly as she had instructed “until the very end.”
My Kudos to Family Caregivers
I genuinely applaud families who take on the responsibility of caring for an aging loved one. Kudos to all family caregivers, who are underappreciated and overextended. It’s often a thankless undertaking.
Let me make it clear that it really doesn't go unnoticed, and I thank you!