Gillian Jones: On not being a martyr caregiver

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WILLIAMSTOWN — "Don't be a martyr for our mother. She doesn't want that," the email read, from a sibling on the other side of the continent, over 2,400 miles away.

The caregiver was trying to share their common humanity with her sibling during this unprecedented time in our history. As an essential worker, the caregiver is not only doing her regular job, but trying to navigate around this new world during a pandemic, with chronic stress, unlike she's ever experienced before while continuing to care for their elderly mother.

She wanted to impart some of her perspective as she shared her challenges. She wasn't looking for sympathy or advice, just some moral support.

As much as he claims he wants to help, it feels more like he wants to control things from afar. After communicating with his mother, he relays to his sibling or caregiver what his mom expressed to him, as if they don't already know what her needs are. When she gets sick or takes a fall, he inquires how more safeguards can be in place so it never happens again. With gravity a constant, perhaps they should consider sending their elderly mom into outer space where there is less gravitational force, or tying her to her chair or bed so she cannot move about on her own, just in case the bed or chair alarm malfunctions.

While the caregivers are providing consistent care for their mother and are grateful to be essential workers, how can they not experience the stress of it all, with burnout looming on the horizon?

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While caring for an elderly woman with dementia in her own well-kept, comfortable home may seem like a cushy gig compared to all the other essential jobs, the job of a home health aide is still a challenging one.

Just the other day, my mother told me that one of our caregivers "was trying to kill her."

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I wanted to tell her that no one wanted to kill her, and that we are in the midst of a pandemic. While COVID-19 probably wants to take her life, or at the very least make her terribly sick, we are taking every precaution to keep her healthy and safe.

When it comes to taking care of an elderly parent, there are probably many caregivers who feel like or are perceived as "martyrs." While a martyr in this sense is not the traditional definition of "a person who willingly suffers being put to death for a cause," it is more in line with "a person who endures great suffering on behalf of a belief, principle or cause."

Caring for my mother at home, instead of having her live her last days in a nursing home, is certainly a principle, but I wouldn't say that I am willing to die for it. Sacrificing a lot, well sure — I am and I'm not alone in that. It's also very challenging more often than not. Mostly, caring for my mother is a gift.

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Should those on the front lines during this pandemic be called martyrs? I think most of us view them as heroes. Should we call them martyrs because they are doing a dangerous job? Maybe they have a death wish? How could anyone be so selfless?

When it comes to caring for an elderly parent, no one rushes to the opportunity. More often than not, the responsibility falls on the child who is geographically close, has no children, or has nothing better to do. But the adult child who takes on the job of caregiver to an elderly parent does so because it is the right thing to do. There is undoubtedly some self-sacrifice involved and perhaps others will view them as a martyr, but more likely than not, they should be praised for what they are — a warrior on the front lines caring for our elderly, and dare I say, a hero.

Caregivers of all kinds should be hailed as heroes. If you are a caregiver draw strength from that and continue being the brave soldier that you are.

An Eagle digital visual journalist, Gillian Jones is writing a monthly op-ed series on caregiving. Her email is gjones@berkshireeagle.com.


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