Disclosure: November is National Family Caregivers Month, so I’m pleased to be working with Midlife Boulevard to bring you this important public service information.
My parents got married on August 12, 1949. In order to build their new life together, they each had to borrow $100 from friends. This covered the costs of a marriage license, two wedding bands, the minister’s honorarium, a celebratory dinner for the newlyweds and their “wedding party” (my Aunt Hazel and Uncle Richard) along with a two-night stay at the “best” hotel in Joliet, IL. After all was said and done, I think they had enough money for a cab ride home.
It was a very modest affair, but one filled with so much love, it carried them forward 65 happy years.
While the wedding might not have been elaborate, their love and mutual respect for each other set a gold-standard for all to see. Like most depression era/post-WWII couples, they were adept at dealing with hardship so took their wedding vows, especially the “sickness and in health, till death do us part” seriously.
The last four years of my father’s life, were difficult ones. With each passing year he added one more debilitating ailment to the list. At age 83, he began walking more slowly and was often in great pain. His doctor thought it might be sciatica and prescribed physical therapy. No improvements were made. He next saw a chiropractor, then an acupuncturist, followed by a doctor who specialized in pain management. Nothing helped and his condition grew worse. After one more round with the physical therapist it was determined that he needed his hip replaced.
My mother went to every doctor’s appointment, she did Internet research on his various medical issues, she asked questions, and she managed my father’s long list of medications. She was there when he was wheeled into surgery, and she was the first person he saw when he awoke. When he was transferred to the rehab center, she visited him every single day.
My father’s back and hip issues improved, but other afflictions were soon added to the list. Incontinence, thyroid problems, weight loss, heart palpitations and anxiety were now his constant companions. Through it all, my mother was gracious and loving and devoted herself to his care, but it was taking a toll on her mentally and physically.
Because of this experience, I am so grateful that AARP and the Ad Council are recognizing the tremendous importance of caregivers during the National Family Caregivers Month.
According to AARP’s research, the more than 42 million caregivers in the U.S. provide an estimated $450 billion worth of unpaid care to aging relatives and friends. Many think that caregivers are paid health professionals, providing full-time care to someone in need of daily help, when in reality, most caregivers are also working and managing their own families at the same time. This can be highly stressful work, putting caregivers at risk for depression and anxiety immunosuppression, cardiovascular disease, premature aging, among other physiological consequences, as well as causing financial problems.
Living in Texas made it challenging to help my parents on a daily basis, so I was so grateful that my brother and sister-in-law live only minutes away. While my father was still living I visited them every two months, staying 5-7 days on average. My role was to support my mother and help out in any way possible. Go to the grocery store, cook dinner, or help her with her computer. Whatever it took. It didn’t feel like I was doing enough, but at least it provided her with much needed respite.
AARP has created a Resource Center with valuable information for caregivers:
- Prepare to Care (Caregiving Planning Guide for Families)
- 12 Resources Every Caregiver Should Know About
- Free eBook: Juggling Work and Caregiving
- 10 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays
Created pro bono by ad agency Alma, AARP and the Ad Council have just launched new public service advertisements that illustrate how the changing roles of parents and children can really impact your life. My mother is now adjusting to her new role as a widow, and living independently in her own home in Phoenix, but she knows she has a suite of rooms waiting for her in Texas whenever she wants.