Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Caregiver. What does that really mean?

From the CICOA website: Taking care of a family member or friend is often rewarding, but it also can be an overwhelming responsibility requiring a great deal of sacrifice and creativity. It may include hands-on care such as bathing, feeding or transportation to and from medical appointments. Caregivers may also be called upon for housecleaning, emotional support or advocacy with health care or insurance providers.

I don't personally have hands on experience in being a caregiver.

My mother in law was a hired caregiver when she lived in Florida- she had a schedule and would spend a day each week with a different client, cleaning house, taking care of them, and so on.

My best friend, Jim, was caregiver for his elderly Aunt for several years when he moved to New York.

My mom has become a caregiver of her parents. They live in a nice assisted living facility but she is very involved in their care and visits them daily and helps my grandma get showers and helps with housework and food and entertainment and day trips.

Sometimes, it's hard. But it's rewarding, too.

The CICOA (Central Indiana Council on Aging) is giving an award to recognize those who care for someone. This isn't for professionals. This is for everyday people who give to someone else, who care, who give, who take care of someone who can't completely take care of themselves.

My friend, Lisa, was a caregiver and has written a guest post to share her story. Please read it. And if you know someone who is a caregiver in Indiana, please nominate them for this award. Please consider caring for someone who dedicates their time and energy to taking care of someone else.


Hi Eternal Lizdom fans. I’ve known Liz for a couple of years now through this blog and through FitCity. When another of my clients, CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions, announced a new Caregiver of the Year Award – an award for the non-professional, family caregiver – I asked Liz’s advice on how to spread the word. She suggested I tell my own care giving story. Then she generously offered to let me share it here.

My caregiving experience has been on my mind more than usual lately. Most likely because of the movie I watched this past Sunday, Two Weeks. In the movie Sally Fields plays Anita Bergman, a woman in the final stages of cancer, but the movie is really about her four grown children who have come home to wait for her to die. No one can imagine watching their parents grow frail or sitting by their side as they die unless they’ve done it.

I’ve done it. My father was misdiagnosed 10 years ago this month with Parkinson’s Disease. My mother and I were in California visiting family when we received his call. It was a real blow to hear that my 56-year-old father had the disease that had ravaged his mother years before. For two months, we settled in to a new routine of medication and therapy. I spent most of my free time at my parents’ sides, asking questions they forgot to ask and gently suggesting ways for them both to cope.

Little did we know at the time that the doctors got it wrong. I had just gotten to work on a beautiful May day when my mother frantically called me. “Come now. Your father woke up this morning and couldn’t move. The ambulance just left.” I was paralyzed with my own fear. I remember crawling under my desk and curling up in a little ball. But the real blow came later that week. Tests concluded he didn’t have Parkinson’s at all. He had an inoperable brain tumor. He was given months to live at the same time I learned I was pregnant with his second granddaughter.

Watching the Sally Fields movie was like reliving my own experience. The movie did an amazing job showing what it is like to care for someone you love when he or she is dying. Normal life ceases. My mother was fortunate enough to be able to take months off from work. I was put on bed rest from the dual stress of birth and death so I was able to be at her side, but I wasn’t able to spend the time in bed. We spent every moment caring for my Dad. We learned how to give him his shots in the stomach. We held him up when the tumor made it difficult for him to walk. We picked him up when he no longer could. We learned how to change bedpans and IVs. We even talked to the monkeys on the dresser when he had morphine induced hallucinations.

When the time came, we hired a hospice nurse to walk us through the process of dying. We also made the difficult calls – to funeral homes and cemeteries, to family members and family friends. We welcomed a stream of people into the house who came to say goodbye. We hosted a party in his honor. We planned the funeral service.

As other caregivers will confirm, caring for someone who is ill, frail or dying, is stressful. Stress is expressed in strange ways and at strange times. In the last moments of my Dad’s life, my Mom and I were talking about one of my Dad’s stranger quirks. He hated calling for carry-out food. Wouldn’t do it. Even when I was 7- or 8-years-old, he would hand me the phone when it was time to order pizza. For some reason, the memory made us both crack up. Our laughter rang through the house and, a moment later, the hospice nurse came out of his room to tell us he had passed away. She said our laughter must have given him the permission he needed to let go.

Despite the stress of care giving, the pain it caused my pregnant body, and the anger I felt at having to deal with his sickness and death, I am so glad I was able to be there for my father. And my mother. It was my responsibility but also my privilege to care for a man that had cared for me my entire life. Providing this kind of care to a loved one is hard. It is time consuming and often caregivers neglect themselves in the process. They sacrifice in order to make sure their parents, children or family members are taken care of with love and compassion. Balancing care giving with life’s other demands – work, children, school…eating – can be overwhelming.

I’m not sharing this story for your sympathy or condolences. I’m sharing it to get you thinking of the caregivers in your own circle of life. I encourage you to recognize their sacrifice, courage and commitment by nominating them for the Caregiver of the Year Award. It will take no more than 30 minutes of your time, but it could be just the lift they need. By nominating them, you become a caregiver too.


Lisa, thank you for honoring us with your dad's story. I'm also sharing this in Shell's weekly Pour Your Heart Out. Honoring a caregiver goes beyond Central Indiana. If you can't nominate someone here for this recognition, maybe this post will inspire you to do something to take care of someone who takes care of others.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for this Liz, I am considering signing my mom up for the Indianapolis Woman make over contest, too! She needs a break and some recognition for the sacrifices she is making each moment of the day!


Momza said...

Liz, I appreciate this so much, that I'm linking to you today.
This is something I know alot of people will also appreciate.
Thank you!

Alison said...

I am so glad that "Caregiver" has become a recognized occupation. I watched from a distance while my parents cared for my grandmother in her last year, and I had a taste of taking care of both Mom & Dad during his year-long transplant experience.

It's important that we recognize this overwhelming responsibility we place on a few shoulders, as our families splinter and move away from home.

Welcome to the Garden of Egan said...

Beautiful story.
I work in an ER and we see the amount of work that caregivers do in caring for parents and children.
They often have unmet needs that are ignored.

Shell said...

What an amazing story. It takes a special person to be a caregiver.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh... That story is just so sad. I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to my parents.

Last year my Dad got pneumonia and was in ICU for weeks. It was very scary... That story just reminded about that time...