The quandary of being a caregiver

Aug 24, 2023
Discover the often-overlooked toll that caregiving takes on caregivers themselves. Source: Getty Images.

The subject of caregiving is a hard one for those of us who are older. Some think it’s a duty that we owe to our loved ones. Others don’t want to have anything to do with it.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

A few years ago, I reconnected with a friend from grammar school. I didn’t know Debbie very well as she was a half grade ahead of me, but I remember her as a lively and outgoing person, nice to everyone, and a fierce competitor when it came to athletics.

My classmates recently had a grammar school reunion, which I could not attend because we were caring for my mother-in-law, who was living with us at the time. But it was nice to enjoy all the photos and to see Debbie’s infectious smile in most of the pictures.

About two years ago, Debbie told me that she had cancer. She was upbeat and optimistic about it, although I knew the challenge would be rough, especially for somebody close to 70. Over the next several months, she and I would touch base with one another, and I would hear about the progression of her illness. She didn’t complain too much, and always seemed to have a heroic attitude.

As her cancer got worse, we shared some of our caregiving journeys. She told me that she believed that her cancer was largely due to being a caregiver for her mother, brother, and her ex-husband. She admitted that she did not take care of herself properly during these times, neglecting her love of tennis and golf, and eating poorly.

She died about a month ago, and I got the feeling that she wished she had taken better care of herself during her caregiving years. She admitted that the stress of caring for her family depleted her immune system, and made her more vulnerable to illness.

There are those of us who do nice things for other people, often at our own expense. I know from the caregiving groups that I belong to on Facebook, that the journey for many caregivers is fraught with all types of illness. Stress plays a big part in the demise of a caregiver, and it is often overlooked in favour of the person who is being cared for.

Both my partner and I are dealing with some health issues now and I wonder if they are from caring for her mother who has lived with us. The stress we have endured from two other family members has created a toxic family environment for all of us.

My partner is being blamed for not wanting to care for her mother anymore. The other two sisters think that she is being selfish by drawing a line and saying that she has had enough. But I don’t think we are being selfish. I think we are doing the right thing for Dorothy, and for ourselves.

Having her among other people who are medically and physically capable of handling her is a prudent decision. She enjoys interacting with other people and those who are younger would be better able to handle her.

But there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on right now and because of that emotions are flared. At what point do you decide to relinquish a loved one into a facility because you are no longer able to care for them properly?

This morning, I am looking into respite care to see if we can find a way to get a break from the challenge of caring for her mother. This is a new terrain for me so I would appreciate any input that you guys have regarding assisted living facilities and respite care.

I’ve written about this stuff before, but the death of my friend only reminds me that we are doing the right thing before our own health takes a turn for the worst.

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