By Sylvana Rinehart, MA, Certified Concierge Care Advisor
The proverb “Circumstances Alter Cases” can be applied to caregiving. Some caregivers are tied by family affiliation, others by friendship or by avocation, and each case is mostly unique and sometimes complex. This blog is an attempt to give these wonderful human beings some recognition because it is often a lonely, long and tortuous process. Today’s world is not an easy one – we hope we are coming out of two years of COVID-19 pandemic, while at the same time faced with a humanitarian crisis in Europe that has the potential of destabilizing the whole world. It is a lot to process, and in looking around me in my daily work as a Senior Advisor, I realize that I witness some lovely stories that fill my heart with gratitude and warmth, and I felt the need to share them. All names are fictitious.
At the top of my long list of “silent heroes” are the spouses, partners of the adult child related to the senior who requires care. They see, hear, and feel everything that is going on but often remain in the background out of respect for family ties and hierarchy. They are the ones who might call us first to find out how they can deal not only with the senior but also with the husband or wife who is the power of attorney who needs to make decisions for the senior. This sometimes is the difficult part, as the power of attorney might not be ready to take action, but the “outsider” knows its time. Recently, Pamela called me to speak about her 90-year-old father-in-law who was living alone. He recently fell and was found on the floor, possibly after 36 hours of lying there. She suspected that there was something wrong as she hadn’t heard from him, and her intuition told her to go check on him. She worries about him. She cares about him. She took the first step of calling for help on how to navigate the intricacies of eldercare and seek advice on where to start. She tells me that her husband is the power of attorney, but he is very busy and doesn’t get along well with his father, so he lets things slide. I feel for the three of them. When I finally get to speak with her husband, he really can’t tell me much about his father because Pamela does everything. She encourages him to talk to me, to listen to the options and to go out with me to see places that would best be suited for his father. If it weren’t for her, he would not have sought help and waited for another crisis. I now talk about being “one step away from a crisis!” with my clients. Pamela is one of the many unsung “in-law” heroes of caregiving. Look around you, as you most probably have someone like that in your household you should listen to and thank.
Lately, we have been receiving many phone calls from families lamenting the isolation their loved one has gone through. Joe called me because he was concerned about his mother who isolated in her home for the past year. He suddenly was confronted with her cognitive decline and her loneliness. He is an only child and feels responsible for her. His work is now picking up and he needs to travel to other parts of the country and abroad which make him less available. He doesn’t understand some of her new behaviors. We talk about options, and I give him a range of monthly costs. He shares her limited portfolio, and we start looking at three possible homes for her. He talks about her with such admiration and how she raised him alone from a young age and never complained. He tells me not to worry as he will subsidize her stay at the home until the home can accept Medicaid. We then discussed the pros & cons of each home, and he came up with excellent points I might not have been able to discern if I were in his shoes. After her move, he was able to start traveling for work and spend some quality time with her without having to worry about her. He thanked me for “this blessing and peace of mind.” I was the privileged one to be a witness to such devotion and understanding.
Most families that I have had the good fortune to deal with don’t come straight out of the Hallmark Channel. I received a call from a sister who desperately needed to find a place for her brother who was deemed “medically stable” and needed to vacate the hospital bed. He could not go back to where he had been living because of safety issues and because his cognitive awareness had become compromised to the point he could no longer live alone. His sister had looked for him everywhere. After a while she found him and took him under her wing even though she hardly knew him. He was her blood relative, and she had to keep setting aside whatever had happened in the past. In record time, we were able to get all the necessary legal paperwork accomplished and signed, we found him an excellent home with caring staff and nice residents. The icing on the cake for his sister and her family was that he moved in the day before she was due to leave for a well-earned vacation with her husband and children– the first in two years. My reward was to bear witness to a woman who never gave up on her brother, and who was able to put the past aside and do the right thing for him.
There are so many stories about wonderful caregivers who selflessly give up their time to help a loved one – blood relative or not – and each case is unique. At a time when we are witness to destruction and hardship, it is refreshing to focus on these people who are naturally kind. In closing, I’ll share one last story that happened many years ago. A family member who had told me that she was adopted when she was young and now was dealing with her mother’s cognitive decline said to me: “I don’t understand seniors. Give me a child and I’ll know how to deal with them.” The good news is she recognized her discomfort with seniors and rose above it. She was a good person and did the best she could for her mother. You caregivers make the world a better place, and when you get discouraged, know that there are people out there who recognize and value your dedication to our seniors.