I’m happy to introduce another guest blogger this week. Cindy Laverty is a nationally recognized caregiving expert who has dedicated her life to empowering caregivers. Today, she discusses her personal experiences as a family caregiver.
Caregiving does not discriminate and caregiving usually happens when we least expect it. If not managed in an organized way from the beginning, it has the potential to rock and wrack your world. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. I know this to be true, because it happened to me.
Several years ago, I was one of those people literally thrown into a situation I knew nothing about. I was asked by my former father-in-law, (yes, my ex-husband’s father) to pay his bills and check on his wife (who suffered from severe arthritis and dementia) while he had open-heart surgery at 83 years of age. His reason for having such invasive and risky surgery was so he could see his granddaughter (my daughter) graduate from college and, as he said to me, “Without this operation, I won’t make it.”
You can imagine the impact of such a statement. I agreed without giving it any further thought, never imagining that I would one day dedicate my life to teaching family caregivers how to manage the journey without losing themselves in the process. I naively thought this promise to help out would be a minor investment of my time. For a number of complicated reasons, I was the only person who was capable of stepping forward to care for Bob and his wife, and I was honored that he trusted me to handle this role. I’m certain that neither of us realized the impact it would have on both of our lives and our relationship.
The fourteen-hour operation was only the beginning of what became the most fascinating education of my life. I knew nothing of the geriatric world or the needs of those living in it. I learned quickly about hospitals, doctors, nurses, protocols, bureaucracy, insurance forms, Medicare, prescription drugs, and how to manage them. I learned how easy it is to get lost in this system and, consequently, I spent a good portion of the first year learning how to avoid being abused by the system. My learning curve had to be swift and precise.
My agreement to pay bills and check on his wife turned very quickly into a full-time obligation. She was suffering from severe dementia and her caregivers were not properly caring for her. The key to keeping her in a peaceful, unagitated state was the proper administration of her mediations, which required special attention. The house was in disrepair. The caregivers needed replacement. The new caregivers needed training. The bills needed attention. Past due bills needed immediate attention. Visits to the hospital were daily; morning and early evening, with emergencies added to the mix. My responsibility didn’t stop here. There were numerous medical issues to deal with: insomnia, depression, seizures, weakness, incontinence, functionality, balance, and the overall day-to-day challenges that the elderly experience when life begins to take its toll on the body.
Clearly, my role was not going to be temporary. If you had told me many years ago that I’d be a caregiver for my ex-father-in-law, I would have thought you were crazy. But this became my life. I didn’t have time to think about the consequences of this change for me; I had work to do and I wasn’t going to let him down. I was on call 24/7, 365 days a year. I visited him daily. Sometimes we had beautiful visits with laughter and remembrances, and then there were those other days when he was just mad at the world and I received the brunt of his anger. There were days when he just sat and stared into space and I read or chatted (for what seemed like endless amounts of time) just to fill the air with sound. Over time, I learned never to take his mood swings personally. I learned to look past the day-to-day feelings and try to focus on the beauty of what we brought to each other’s lives. He thought I was his angel (The first man who has ever called me that!) and for me, caring for him was the catalyst that taught me the importance of self care…self care without guilt. I learned that I mattered. I learned that I didn’t have to always say YES for fear that someone wasn’t going to like me. I learned to set boundaries and that changed my life. I learned more from him and my caregiving journey than he did from me.
For almost six years, I cared for this man and, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and thank him for the gift of helping me find myself.
Today my life is truly rich because the Universe presented itself to me in a way that I was never expecting. I learned a million little things from being a caregiver. I learned to celebrate how blessed my life is because of giving to another.
Cindy Laverty, Founder of The Care Company, is dedicating her life to creating a nation of Empowered Caregivers. Cindy helps family caregivers learn how to thrive in the world of caring for another. She is a nationally recognized caregiving expert, coach, author, public speaker and radio talk show host of The Cindy Laverty Show, heard nationally each week on CRN Digital Talk Radio. You can reach Cindy at www.thecarecompany.biz.