In 1996, my sixty-nine year old mother had a critical brain aneurysm. Three days later, my father had a massive stroke. Only days before, both were completely independent, living as they chose to live – an in-law apartment within ready distance to most of their family, a month in Daytona each winter, a small bit of savings, a bowling league twice a week, regular drives to Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a glazed. My family woke up one Friday morning and our whole world shifted (and continues to shift).
As an arts educator and published poet, I began writing my family’s story as a way to move forward. What started as journal entries, poems, pages ripped from health magazines, websites and phone numbers on the back of lunch napkins has become a finished manuscript. It is entitled “Here is a Kiss”. While looking for the ‘perfect agent’, a blog seemed a natural next step.
Since 1996, I’ve learned much about caregiving and caregetting, about when to shut up and when to be assertive. I’ve been enmeshed within our healthcare system and its providers, particularly in regard to eldercare – figuring out how to work within the bureaucracy to find answers and move things along.
I’ve lied and spoken as my mother on the phone (once, even my father), making my voice raspy and older to get and give information. I’ve memorized both their social security numbers to enable me to repeat them as my own without hesitation and openly sobbed (as well as lost my temper) when necessary to get things done.
Though many roles have shifted, initially I was the primary caregiver for both my parents and did so while taking care of my own family and running a business. With four brothers (I’m the only daughter) most of the decision-making fell to me, along with their medical care and financial management. It wasn’t planned this way (we had no plan whatsoever), but when the immediate crisis passed, someone had to do it.
It is estimated over forty-four million people are currently in the role of caregiver to a family member and with the first baby boomers turning sixty-five this year, this number will continue to grow. Like me, many caregivers are women (though men are increasingly stepping up) with jobs and families of their own. Like me, most give it no consideration until they wake up one morning to an entirely different reality and no idea what to do.
Sometimes, all you need to do is turn the page…Elizabeth