I'll go out on a limb here . . . (I hope it's a sturdy limb, unlike some of the earlier ones I've tried.) I boldly assert that most of us of the female persuasion and of a certain age have been caregivers, on and off, all our lives.
It often comes initially with discovering the joys of diaper-changing, wiping spit-up off the shoulders of everything we own, while trying to get dinner on the table for a hard-working husband. (Some of us secretly envied HWH: He got to talk to adults all day, didn't he?)
Caring for sick or injured family members comes with the territory. Then there is the "Mom and Dad are old. We need to help them" phase. Some of us have done a lot of caregiving for a beloved spouse before he/she died. That's a really hard part of life.
My father died a long time ago, while my mother lived for another 17 years. During those years, I was the "designated offspring,'' chosen by my siblings to fly thousands of miles to go to her aid. That was because I was the one who didn't have a job or children still at home. And, I was her only daughter.
In my parents' generation, families generally lived near one another. Caregiving typically was not a disruption to any one person because there were enough relatives around to share the task.
In my generation, however, families dispersed all over the country. Parents retired to the Sun Belt. Sister or brother stayed in the distant town or other state where they had gone to college.
The past 25 years or so have seen the dramatic rise in assisted living facilities, places where many of the burdens of old age are assumed by the paid staff. These are not nursing homes in the traditional sense. Rather, the employees take care of residents' household chores, which become increasingly difficult and time-consuming as we age.
The downside is leaving the family home, necessitating a downsizing in residence for many older adults, and these ALFs, though pleasant, aren't cheap.
They certainly aren't options for everyone, but with no family nearby to help out, these facilities become the option for many.
But . . . when your parent is diagnosed with cancer and has to undergo debilitating and scary treatment over a span of weeks or months, family caregiving is more satisfactory for all concerned. However, that is not always an option — nor is caregiving easy.
And even if the loved one who can be there to help you is one of your favorite relatives, you still worry about being a burden.
You might even consider the possible burn-out factor for the caregiver. A lot depends on how long-term the caregiving will be — for days, or weeks or months? Or maybe, years? How much care will be needed? How physically and emotionally demanding will it be?
In my own case, caring for my mother in her last few years, I remember being overjoyed when my brother and his family turned up during a very intense time with my mother:
There were appointments to be made with a physical therapist who came to the house, and for a home aide — a physically strong person expert at helping less-than-mobile people take showers. And appointments needed to be made with a nurse who came to monitor my mother's condition.
I was frazzled — I felt as if I didn't have time for a shower. My mother had to eat very high-calorie meals. Guess who gained weight? Her age-to-weight ratio continued to go in the wrong direction.
My sainted brother and his family came to my rescue and gave me a break for a week or so.
Now, most people don't want to be a burden to those kind enough to give their time and efforts to our needs. Blessed are the care receivers who have the grace to accept the help without uttering the litany of "Woe is me! I'm a burden to you" refrain.
That can make the caregiver think, "Yes, you are, and if you don't stop talking about it, neither of us can go through this without tears and general misery."
The "care'' equation is a hard change for both sides. Love and understanding lessen the strain. And remember: You may be giving care now, but you are likely one day to be on the receiving end . . . if you're lucky.
Write to Sheila Stoll in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731