Some of you have heard me share my personal story about the day my professional view on caregiving became a family member’s view. It’s a story I share often, but rarely do I include all the details. Some are private; some just too painful. I bet most family caregivers can relate.
It started late one night when the phone rang. One the other end was an emergency tech who said my parents had been in an auto accident and that I should immediately drive to the city hospital to meet the ambulance bringing my mother in.
“Where’s my dad? Is he OK?” was the first question I asked.
“Just go to the hospital – they’ll explain it all,” was the response.
Fast forward several hours, and I was faced with making funeral arrangements for my father while being on standby to see, hour by hour, if my mother was going to live.
All of my years of experience as a hospital social worker, management consultant for senior care and educator about issues related to caregiving just flew out the window.
I was now simply a family caregiver, doing my best to balance kids at home with daily sports agendas and school needs, a growing business and professional demands, and the tasks and emotions I faced on a daily basis meeting my mother’s needs.
It was among the most challenging periods of my life. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, frightened and often simply resigned to doing poorly at every task I attempted in a given day.
I became a regular fast-food customer, running between the office, my daughter’s soccer games and visits to my mom’s bedside. My husband picked up nearly all the daily household tasks, leaving him equally exhausted and overwhelmed.
My story pales in comparison with many of the more than 40 million family caregivers throughout the U.S. These are individuals sleeping on couches in their parents’ homes, working late into the night to keep up with demanding jobs, traveling across country every month, crying, depressed, exhausted and angry at other family members who don’t help enough, at healthcare systems that often feel more barrier-laden than supportive, and at a culture that is clueless about the needs of caregivers – until the very moment that the caregiver is YOU.
These days I talk a lot about the needs of family caregivers. I believe we as a society, and especially those of us in the helping professions, need to do everything we can to raise the blinds and let the sunlight in.
We need to share stories – ours and theirs.
We need to listen and support; to help families know that they are not the only ones going through challenges that affect their jobs, their marriages, their siblings and their kids.
We need to reach out and join hands, offering our support to strengthen those who are struggling just to get through the day.
Since my own experience, some of which continues on today, I have devoted time and energy to creating resources that other providers can use to support the family caregivers in their universe. These include the Family Learning Center®, a resource that I love for its ability to provide families with a wealth of helpful information online so that it can be accessed just when its needed – and it will be needed!
It also includes a collection of DVDs so warm, helpful and person-centered that we continue to offer them widely, even to those using online training solutions, as a lending library, a patient-education resource and a resource to use in personal presentations throughout the country today.
You’ll hear me say, over and over, “connect with caregiving families in your community who don’t even know they need you.” They DO need you, for all the support, encouragement and help you can give them.
Do you have a story to share? Write your comments or story below.