Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter once said, “There are four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.” I learned of this quote while covering a local presentation for caregivers in St. Joseph. The event was hosted by the Church of St. Joseph in partnership with other community organizations.
Caregivers are needed for family members of all ages, according to the National Family Caregivers Association. With the appropriate information and support, they can help loved ones across their lifespan.
As I sat and listened to the men and women who are caring for loved ones and those who have done so previously, I thought about the caregivers in my life who I didn’t place in this category before. To me, they were doing what they had to for their loved one.
Mama Burke is like a second grandmother for me and my younger sister Beverly. She lives in Ohio and was our maternal grandmother’s best friend. She is 92-years-old and still lives in her home. What a blessing! She has a home health aide come in to assist her every day. She also has my aunt, who comes and sits with her, prepares some of her meals and even takes her to some of her appointments.
I never thought of my aunt as a caregiver. She does it because Mama Burke is family and she loves her. She, like many caregivers, didn’t take a formal class on how to care for a loved one. I’m sure these classes exist but this comes naturally for my aunt. She had to learn along the way – something many caregivers have to do.
As I listened to the journeys of caregivers during the presentation, I thought about if I’d ever be strong enough to watch a loved one’s health deteriorate or stand by and witness someone losing their memory due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. One of the attendees said something I’ll never forget. She told other caregivers in the room, “People feel sorry for me,” she said. “I feel sorry for him. He’s losing himself.” The woman was speaking in reference to her husband who is living with dementia. I appreciated her perspective. This is where the learning kicked in for me. Caregivers don’t do what they do for recognition or sympathy. They act out of love for the person they are caring for.
I also learned being a caregiver can be emotionally draining on an individual and their relationships. It’s vital for caregivers to take care of themselves as they care for others. They need care too. I got a glimpse of this with a family friend in Ohio. H.J. is the middle child out of five children. He was one of three children that lived in the same state as his mother. As she aged, he stayed close by and even moved in with her when she could no longer live alone. H.J. did a lot on his own with very little and distant help. To me, he was just being a great son. Who wouldn’t care for an aging parent? He was more than a son. He was a caregiver and is the best I’ve ever seen.
Personally, I gained a lot from attending the local caregiver presentation thanks to my assignment for the day as a reporter. I learned caregivers come in many forms. From daughters and sons to cousins and neighbors, they are everywhere. If I ever become a caregiver I hope I can be as strong and as dedicated as the men and women who gathered recently to share their experiences – experiences for which I learned there is no magic recipe.