For most of my life, I have lived in Colorado and my parents always lived where it was warm, due to my Mom’s severe crippling arthritis. Therefore, when my Dad got colon cancer, I was thousands of miles away. How did I feel? A sense of helplessness. Long distance phone calls didn’t cut it. A visit every two months didn’t ease my guilt either. Unfortunately, my Mom was sick herself and unable to help with the caregiving. And I couldn’t move them near me because my Mom couldn’t take the altitude.
Caring from far away is not easy. Although we hired a caregiver that was close by and came in three times a week, I was still responsible for arranging the doctor appointments, coordinating all the healthcare and insurance, working full time and taking care of my own family. My Dad and his “surrogate daughter” became very close, and I’m not sure what I
would have done without her. I did not want my parents in assisted living so I brought assisted living to them.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m not complaining. I became what is known as a “distant”
caregiver and I am not alone. In fact, the National Institute on Aging estimates that about 7 million Americans consider themselves long-distance caregivers.
It has been said that long-distance caregivers often suffer from guilt and regret when a parent passes away. And that 30 percent of long distance caregivers feel so inadequate that they don’t even consider themselves as true caregivers, even though they, like local caregivers, change their schedules, miss work and take leaves of absence to help with their parents.
I know this. I did the best I could under the circumstances. Was it a perfect situation? No? But my Dad died peacefully at home which is something he dearly wanted. He did not die in a nursing home surrounded by strangers. We patch worked his in home care together as best as we could.
Here’s some tips I followed that made the situation as a distant caregiver a little easier:
- Keep in daily contact. For the more technologically savvy, there’s always Skype. Be there as a sounding board, so they can talk about their feelings. I felt more emotionally attached knowing what was going on.
- Visit as often as you can. Fortunately, the plane ride to see my parents was only 1 ½ hours away. In the beginning, I went to visit every two months. Toward the end, I was able to be there for two weeks until; my Dad passed away. Did it cost me a lot? Absolutely. At the time, it was financially draining, but in retrospect, I don’t regret a cent!
- Stay in touch with their physicians. If possible, find a physician or dentist who can come to them.
- Hire a caregiver to be your eyes and ears. Without my father’s in-home caregiver, he wouldn’t have been able to stay at home. She took him to doctor
appointments, helped with meals and did all the heavy lifting. Toward the end
when he couldn’t talk on the phone, she was my lifeline.
- Establish an emergency system. When my Dad had to spend a week in the hospital, I had to have an emergency plan in place, because my Mom couldn’t be alone. I always had a suitcase packed, just in case.
- Call in hospice. For additional support, my dad had hospice caregivers who came to his bedside as well. They were able to help with medications and provide
support at a time when my family needed it.
If you let guilt consume you, this is the emotion you focus on. This may be the last memories you have of your parents, so keep it as upbeat as possible. After five years, I still miss my dad every day. It’s his life I try and focus on, not my shortcomings as a caregiver or his death.