Monday, August 18, 2014
I was talking to a caregiver a few weeks ago, who has been sharing her caregiving journey with me over the last year. A year ago, she came out of the denial phase that we all go through when we first see dementia in a loved one, and realized that there were some serious issues with her mother that needed to be addressed. She approached me for some advice about what to do and where to start and I was happy to help.
Unfortunately, her mother lives across the country, which made it more difficult to start the process of taking over financial affairs and overseeing her mother’s health. There is an older sister who lives relatively close by but as is often the case, the sister is reluctant to commit to doing much for their mother and not as responsible as my acquaintance, who has had to take on almost everything.
I few months ago, I learned that the caregiver had gone through the difficult process of convincing her mother that it was time to move to a facility, which had gone smoothly, and everything seemed to be progressing. My friend had also gone out to clean out and close up her mother’s home, again with limited help from the sister. My friend mentioned in passing that she was really struggling to find the time at home to take care of all her mother’s bills and clerical tasks: she felt her own job, and her time with her family was suffering. She also felt she was resenting her mother's tasks, and therefore not doing them well, and there had been problems with late payments.
I suggested several tricks to make her tasks a little easier: putting all her mother’s mail in one spot as it came in and designating one particular day a week to deal with it (Dad gets more mail than I do, and it piles up); spending a designated length of time, doing only her mother’s tasks; paying as many bills as possible on-line and automatically, something I have found to a be a lifesaver with Dad’s various bills and payments; and marking in her calendar when various things would be due. I also suggested that, if her mother’s estate could afford it, that she should really get paid for what she was doing, something that she seemed surprised to hear.
I told her that her time and energy were worth being paid for; I reminded her that she wouldn’t do work for a client without presenting them with an invoice. She was devoting valuable time to her mother’s business, and she deserved some sort of exchange for that. So often, caregivers don’t look at their situations this way – they don’t believe they are worth getting care back. Often, resentment and bitterness can grow, which harms us emotionally and can affect the job we are doing with and for our loved ones.
Most people have the, somewhat idyllic, idea that caregiving is done only out of the goodness of our hearts, because we feel the call, and because we are happy to care for our loved ones. This may be true, but what is also true is that caregiving is a job – and a tough one. I wanted to care for my Dad for personal reasons, but I also knew that I could only do it if there was some sort of energy exchange – in this case money. I would be sacrificing a lot, and I needed to have compensation for it, financially and psychologically. Luckily, my father had enough money to make this possible.
I urge caregivers to ask for some sort of energy exchange for the phenomenal jobs they do. We all deserve an exchange when we use precious energy and time for another’s care or benefit. There isn’t always money available for a paycheck, as in my case (and believe me, I wish there were, especially money from the government), but there are other types of compensation. The use of a care receiver’s car for tasks and errands; a little extra money for a caregiver’s groceries; or living rent-free with the care receiver. Be creative in finding ways to receive – because you ARE worth it!