Caught by Surprise: A Caregiver’s Story
VOCATIONAL WELLNESS – Working keeps us engaged and growing. If you’re not working, volunteer to help others, get involved in an avocation.
It was March of 1985 when I was violently jerked into the world of caregiving. It wasn’t a delicate, deliberate, planned process at all. It was jarring, understood (an unspoken, unsigned contract in our family), and overwhelming.
I was pregnant and three weeks overdue in my last pregnancy when I received word that my father had committed suicide. He had retired early, and was caring for my grandparents and ailing mother. Retirement wasn’t working out as he had planned, and he tried to re-enter the workforce. Met by a wall of ageism for the older-than-average worker trying to enter the workforce in a new field, he became discouraged and began a downward spiral which led to his depression and death.
I cried so hard upon hearing the news that I went into labor and delivered my daughter a day later. Upon leaving the hospital, I entered into a new world that I had no time to plan for. I had gone into the hospital with two people dependent on me (my two-year old and four-year old sons) and came out with six dependents, including my new little girl. It wasn’t their fault. It just was.
Fortunately, I was working at the time as a full-time mother at home. That at least gave me the freedom I needed to meet everyone’s needs during the course of each day. Had I been working outside the home, it would have been a completely different story I’m telling right now.
Between visits to doctor appointments, hospitals, and personal cares for seven (including myself); grocery shopping, managing finances and housekeeping chores for three households, I had no time for “a real” job. This must have been before the caregiving support networks were formed because I never heard of them at the time, and didn’t even self-identify as a caregiver. I identified with the fact that I was a mother, a daughter and granddaughter – that’s it.
I was also a wife, and that ended in 1989. It wasn’t a casualty of caregiving. It was actually more the result of beginning to take care of myself. Lots of things changed in 1989. They had to. I “hit bottom,” and had nowhere to go but up. I began working outside the home again in 1991, and am still with the same employer today.
My grandfather passed away at home after a courageous battle with cancer. Grandma spent a little over a month in a nursing home before she succumbed to cancer. My mother died in her home a few years ago. In between, my children all grew up and left the nest. Now it’s just me and my wonderful new husband who has been by my side for the last 17 years. He was sent to me as an angel in disguise in the midst of my single caregiving days.
I know my story isn’t unique. It’s mostly daughters who care for their aging family members when they need help. It seems to be a rite of passage; an honor, despite its difficulties, that is bestowed upon some of us as we are refined by age.™