Gillian Jones: An attitude of gratitude for your caregiver

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NORTH ADAMS — Whether you have one child or several, there is no guarantee that your children are going to take care of you when you are old and gray. They may not even want to, or simply be unable to due to the complexities and responsibilities in their own lives.

I am the oldest of two children and I take care of my mom. She made me her power of attorney and health care proxy in a legal document over 20 years ago. My only sibling, my younger brother, lives in San Francisco and has for over two decades. While he cannot be here, he calls her every day and advocates for her rights. My brother even took care of our mother for four months back in late 2016, nursing her back after several falls in her home, one of which resulted in a fracture.

However, he eventually left. Since then, he visits once or twice a year. Some people have said he should move home and take care of her. While I imagined he would when the time came, I am not surprised that he hasn't and probably won't.

Mom has a 'staff'

Now that she needs 24/7 care, she lives with me. And I have caregivers who assist my mom. I have people in my home at least 12 hours a day, more or less. While I feel better having her live with me, and not in a nursing home, it was a huge adjustment to open my home, not only to my mother but other people. Now there is "staff" for my mom. And with that, I respect, acknowledge and appreciate their work and efforts in caring for my mom. I know the intimate details of what the job involves, since I take care of her too.

There are some remarkable families who share the responsibility of caring for a family member who needs it. I remember a woman telling me that she and her two other sisters actually had a kind of "joint custody" of their mother and each one took turns taking mom into their home for four months at a time. What a great arrangement and so fair to everyone! But in many families there is often one family member who ends up being the designated caregiver. Honestly it takes a certain kind of individual to care for another person because regardless of how they may make it look, it is not an easy job.

Most caregivers seem to embrace the task. If they feel any resentment or bitterness, it seems to come from the fact that other family members, who are not caregivers, seem to take the designated caregiver's job for granted. Furthermore, they often complain or criticize what the caregiver does, offering opinions on how it could be done better. One person jokingly told me the criticism usually stops, "when a family member is invited to take over."

A young woman told me how her grandmother lives with her mom and dad. She remarked that a nearby aunt is often reluctant to help her mother, with their mother, and when she does, she acts like she is making a great sacrifice.

Recently she didn't hesitate to say what an inconvenience it was to take her mother to a doctor's appointment and wouldn't do it. The young woman stepped in and took her grandmother to the appointment instead.

"I think some people are just so selfish," she said of her aunt.

Whether they are from out of the area, or even live nearby, when family come to visit a loved one, it is usually only for a short period of time.

And when they do visit, it is probably pleasant as they may take them out to eat, spend time chatting and laughing and doing other fun activities. But just as they swoop in, they leave.

Caregiving for an elderly parent or relative comes with great personal sacrifice. And more often than not, family simply do not appreciate that.

"The hardest part was not being able to enjoy my mom like they did, they got to see her and love her and leave. I loved my mom so much but I also had to take care of her and it was so hard and many times I wasn't able to enjoy her like they could, I'm so sad that I missed out on that," one caregiver said of her late mother.

Caregiving is a tough job. Caregivers can burn out! Then what? Is someone else going to take over?

Give them a break

How about appreciating their effort, whether they are being paid for it, or doing it for free. Be grateful. Thank them once in a while and then, make sure they are doing okay. While you may ask the caregiver what mom needs or wants, how about asking the caregiver what they need? Maybe show your designated caregiver some appreciation by doing something that the caregiver can enjoy. How about taking them out to dinner, or giving them a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. Maybe give them a spa day so they can recharge their batteries. How about caring for mom or dad for a hour or two and give them a break?! How about not complaining when you are called upon to do something to help out your elderly parent, and give your sibling some help?

If your sister is taking care of your mom, in her own home, while you continue to live your life on your own terms, how about just saying, "Thank you sis! I appreciate what you are doing for our family. We are so lucky to have you. What can I do to help you, and mom?"

The third Friday in February is National Caregivers day but don't wait till then to thank the caregiver that is taking care of your loved one. A little bit of appreciation goes a long way. Appreciate them every today and every day!

Gillian Jones is an Eagle photographer. Her email is gjones@berkshireeagle.com. Her oped column "Caregiving and the silver wave" ran on July 14."




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