The other day I walked quickly before a rainfall to secure a lone taxi. I was just behind a man who, as it turned out, also needed the taxi. A rare gentleman, he asked me where I was headed and offered to share his ride. As we awkwardly made small talk in the back seat of the cab, I mentioned that I had moved to the area to care for my parents, both with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
He turned to look at me in surprise and exclaimed, “I’m on my way to visit my father, who has Alzheimer’s. We’ve just moved him into a residence on the river.” Within moments, we were sharing our experiences and I was learning all about this residence, which I had been meaning to check out. Turns out his father is very happy there, and he thinks the staff do a great job. Good to know!
And this is what my life has become…..
Last weekend, for the first time in three years, I experienced a sense of wellbeing. It’s not that anything has changed in our Alzheimer’s world … my parents are still struggling with the challenges of daily living, my heart is still aching for them, my to-do list is still overwhelming… but we finally have three other caregivers on board. And that has made a huge difference to my peace of mind. Like colossal.
It makes all the difference between feeling constantly “on” and jumping sky-high each and every time the phone rings… to being able to spend a few hours curled up with a good book or enjoying an evening of cooking and watching a movie on Netflix. Knowing that some lovely angel is with my parents makes that possible. I’m so, so grateful.
I’m also grateful that my parents saved for their retirement and have the funds for this caregiving team (for now, anyway). I know everything can change at any moment. Caregivers come and go, for a variety of reasons. We might run out of funds down the road. Anything can happen! Which is why it’s so important to recognize and appreciate those moments when things line up and are going relatively well.
You learn to take nothing for granted when in service to others…
I realize that many families can’t afford professional caregivers. It seems that poverty levels among seniors are quite high, and my heart goes out to those who are struggling to make ends meet. It never made sense to me that, in a country proud of its social care policies, so many seniors are neglected and abandoned in the system. Family caregivers deserve more support than they currently get, that’s an absolute certainty.
But these are important lessons for me. I really did think, at first, that I could do this by myself. Being a proud over-achiever, I jumped into this caregiving role with a lot of high hopes and bravado. If I hadn’t at some point hit the wall and started bleeding stress, anxiety and depression, I might have slowly deteriorated due to pride and guilt. Don’t do that, please! It’s not in anyone’s best interests, and it’s not what your parents want, no matter how much they need you.
If you need help, find it. Beg for it if necessary. Nobody – and I mean nobody – understands how stressful caregiving is until they have tried it themselves. Don’t assume that people can tell how drained you are, and don’t “hope” for a miracle. Speak to everyone about what you’re going through – at first I was uncomfortable telling people about my family’s situation, but now it comes up naturally. How are you? What do you do for a living? What brings you to this city? I’m exhausted, thank you for asking, I’m currently a caregiver for my parents, I’m here to help.
I’ve met so many kind and compassionate people just by being honest … and I’m both shocked and amazed to find out that the majority of people know someone with Alzheimer’s, or someone who’s caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, or someone who knows someone who knows. Kind and compassionate people who, when they know your situation, are happy to share information, direct you to services and organizations that you might need, or help you find help. The superintendent of my apartment building just happened to have an aunt who knows a caregiver who was looking for work… and that’s how it works. That’s how it should work.
Because in the end, we’re all in this together.
“We rise by lifting others.”
– Robert Ingersoll