Chris is our bookkeeper here at Sequoia Senior Solutions, but she’s also been a family caregiver herself. She’s been caring for family members with medical conditions off and on for the last thirty years! Keep reading to learn more about her story and the advice she has for other family caregivers.
What is your background and how did you become a family caregiver?
My caregiving started in my late 30’s when my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. My early background was nursing school. It’s always been a passion of mine. And my husband had done medic training in the marines, and when he came back he went to work at a skilled nursing facility. I did a lot of reading and I learned a lot from him, so when my aunt got sick with ovarian cancer, we were part of her care team.
We did weekends and some night shifts. That’s when I learned more about bed care and assisting people that really needed assistance in bathroom and comfort care. After taking care of her and realizing I needed more information, I became a hospice volunteer.
It called out how to deal with a dying person better. What to do and not to do. When your emotions are tied up with that since it’s your family member it gets more difficult. Your first instinct is probably not the right one. You also have to deal with false hope. When the patient has a good day you may start thinking then that the diagnosis is wrong.
Years after my aunt passed, my mom became very ill with a rare form of esophageal cancer. My dad and I worked with hospice took care of my mom, but she only agreed to hospice in the last 30 days. She was feisty! After she passed, my husband became sick. His kidney and liver failed and I along with an aunt and hospice cared for him for a few days until he passed at home.
About two years after that my dad moved in. When he first came, he had mild cognitive impairment, so I made sure he took his medication, did meal prep/nutrition, and made sure he was safe. He was with me for about 8 1/2 years and just passed away recently.
How did you cope/manage your stress?
If you do something like caregiving every day, you have to have that time for yourself. Mine was always doing things in the yard. Digging in the dirt, planting plants, and watching things grow. I’m never happier than when I am digging in the dirt somewhere. That and walking are big relaxation activities for me. More recently, I discovered the Calm app. I wish I would have had it years ago. It has really been a lifesaver for me. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of that person that you love.
With my dad, it became apparent after a couple of falls that it wasn’t working anymore. I had to bring in help. My brother moved in with us and we also brought in caregivers from Sequoia to help. The caregivers were so helpful. I knew from our care plan notes what happened throughout the day. They kept great notes and I read them every night when I got home. He loved to go for a ride in the car, so they did that. And they made sure he had his meals and his medicine.
I would hire our caregivers again in a heartbeat – they did a phenomenal job.
I never went to work without knowing that dad was well taken care of while I was gone. I didn’t have to worry, and I had peace of mind. My dad was always happy, and the caregivers were great. They never made him feel bad when he had accidents. There was nothing but kindness.
What did you like most about being a family caregiver?
Being able to do for my family, especially my parents, what they did for me as a little kid. I’m very lucky. Specifically with my dad because it was a long time. I loved to see him light up when I came home. Even though my dad had memory problems he still knew who I was. That was partially due to continuity of care. It’s important to provide the love and care that you can, but you need to also recognize when to bring in help.
What were your main struggles or challenges?
Dealing with continence care and feed tube care was really hard. To get through it, to clean it up, and to clean them up without breaking down yourself. To do everything you can to avoid making them feel bad about something they can’t do anything about. There was more than one time that I walked away from doing something like and just sat down in quiet and just cried. And just knowing that you’re losing someone is huge. Trying not to make that the forefront of your thoughts.
Dealing with other family members can be a challenge, too. Listening to everyone’s ideas and taking them into consideration when making decisions. Whole relationships have fallen apart because of this.
Any advice for family caregivers?
Be willing to ask for help and accept it. You need a support system – some form of a care team. I don’t think you can do it by yourself. I don’t think it is healthy to do it that way. Everyone has a breaking point, and it comes sooner when you are exhausted. You need some kind of de-stressor in your life. You’ve got to make time in your life to do something that’s really good for you, because that will help you to do what’s excellent for the people you’re taking care of.
With my brother and sister, each of us had our roles. My sister took care of all of the financials, and we each played on our strengths to provide the best all-around care. It’s also important to realize not everything needs to be done your way.
Hospice is also a big part of my story. My father got taken off hospice because he was doing so well, so it doesn’t mean it is a death sentence. Bringing them in makes a big difference for the family caregivers. It lightens the load even a little bit makes a big difference. My aunt, mother, father, and husband all were on hospice just for different amounts of time.
Taking care of a loved one is a labor of love as well as heartbreaking. I think family caregivers are superheroes and need to know when to ask for help so they can survive as well.