I’ve been married to my husband for 12 years and together we have three beautiful and active children. We settled into an established neighbourhood in London, Ontario; nestled among other growing families. However, mine looks a little different.
Attached to the side of our house is a little suite into which my mother moved at the time we had our first child. Back then my mother was spry. She was mobile, driving and would jump at any opportunity to take her grandchildren for ice cream.
Things started to change seven years ago. My husband and I found ourselves being more hands on, helping mom around the house. At that time, I was a full time coordinator for senior programming and activities. My days were time consuming and demanding both physically and emotionally. As time moved on, I started to see my mom in my residents. She occupied my thoughts throughout the day, and I started to feel guilty about leaving her alone for too long. I decided to look for a new career that harmonized with my new reality of being a family caregiver.
I now work part time at a medical clinic and my employer and colleagues are very supportive and understanding. I am also very blessed to have an amazing husband. He goes above and beyond and does whatever he can to help out. I don’t know what I’d do without him. I know I’m not alone, but do I ever feel isolated considering I’m only 41 with 3 young children and a dependent aging mother.
The hardest part about being a caregiver that no one ever talks about is that you have to put aside your feelings that this is your mom and you are losing her slowly. I lost my father at the age of twenty. Losing someone fast and sudden is difficult, but for me this is harder. I have to watch it happen over time – over years. You lose a piece of her every day it feels like.
I’ve learned that some days just aren’t great and you have to roll with that. Everything is new, even though I have professional and academic training in working with seniors; it’s a whole different ballgame when it’s your parent. I realize that we as a family have to continue going about our daily lives on top of making sure that everything is OK for her. I keep my children actively involved. They stop in to say hello to grandma after school every day. My one daughter does puzzles with her, the other will colour. In the summer, my son would go into the backyard with her and they would toss a ball back and forth. They may not always know what to do; they are all under the age of 12, but with some guidance and direction they do what they can. It’s been hard for them too, seeing the change in her.
We do catch glimpses of her from time to time. Last year, we were visiting St. Thomas and of course a mandatory stop when visiting such a place is Shaw’s Ice Cream. I got my mother this huge ice cream cone because she loves anything sweet. I brought it to her and her eyes just popped. It was like she was a kid all over again. After she took her first lick, looked at me and said, “Oh, this makes me happy!” That just made the whole day for me because that was mom. That was the mother I knew, the grandmother my children remember. Catching those glimpses is the most rewarding part of being a caregiver because you get to see your parent again, not the person they have become today.
There is no specific skill set when it comes to being a caregiver. You need to be patient, you need to be compassionate and you need to have the empathy for the situation at hand. As much as you want to give – give – give, you also have to remember to take a step back and make sure you are well: emotionally and physically. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your loved one.
Looking back, I don’t think I realized how much this was going to affect my family and me. Normally, I’m a part time fitness instructor. Exercise was my release and my time. This last month though, I wasn’t able to get there, not to teach and not even to attend any classes. It took its toll.
I feel like I’m worried about my mom all the time. Sometimes it feels like I have to be the parent and it is difficult because I’m not. I have three children of my own, all of whom are active and participate in various community and sports programs. Both my daughters are in Guiding and I continue to be a volunteer Guide Leader for that program. I want to be the type of mom my brother and I had; a mother who was actively involved in our childhood and building not only a parent-child relationship but a friendship as well. It leaves me torn because I am needed on both sides. I am needed as a mother to my young children and I am needed as a daughter and caregiver to my ailing mother.
One day, I was at the end of my rope. It was a bad day and I needed something more. I know there are a lot of resources out there for people in my situation but I didn’t realize how much of an advocate I needed to be for myself. I walked into a Home Instead Senior Care office with no appointment, took one quick glance at a smiling receptionist and told her that I needed help. We sat down and together identified the areas I needed help in, where I needed support or simply just an extra set of hands.
I now have a professional caregiver that visits my mom twice a week. She spends time with my mom, does a little bit of personal care, but is more of a companion to her. She also does household tasks; laundry, changes the bed sheets, tidies up, and takes out the garbage. It helps alleviate some of the tasks that my husband and I have to do and in turn leaves us time to just be a family again with her.
The Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) has also been an instrumental support system. We have a PSW that comes daily to get mom up in the morning and then get her ready for bed at night. It is a godsend and I can’t imagine not having her help. PSW’s and Caregivers are amazing people, and they help out families so much.
Learning to ask for help was a big hurdle, one that I still struggle with on a personal level. I have family who is willing to be involved and I’m learning to communicate with them on what is needed. As a caregiver, you need to be able to ask for what you need. It is important that you do your homework. There are so many resources out there. You need to learn to ask questions of people. I may not know of people who are in the same situation as I am, but there are other caregivers caring for their parents out there.
You hear more and more these days about the sandwich generation, the 40-something year olds being pulled in both directions. I want my mom to stay in the comfort of her home; I encourage the continuation of seniors programs because they too have a need to be social. There is a lot of information online, support groups, and private companies like Home Instead Senior Care ready to assist when you reach the end of your rope. My family may look a little different, but I feel like my story is becoming all too familiar. Being a caregiver is hard. It’s emotional, it’s stressful and more times than not, it is just plain exhausting. But, at the end of the day, I know I have done the best that I can for my mom. I will continue to advocate for her and be there for her, because I love her.