November is National Family Caregivers Month and AARP is sponsoring a Thanks Project to thank the more than 42 million caregivers in the U.S. As a member of AARP's Kitchen Cabinet on Caregiving, I wanted to send a special shout out to all the boomer girls (and their boomer guys too) who are caring for aging parents.
I know how difficult it is to balance life while caregiving. My sister N and I were caregivers to my mom until she passed away last March at the age of 91. Up until the end of her life, we agonized over multiple decisions we had to make regarding her caregiving.
What assisted living residence would provide the best environment when she could no longer live on her own? What rehab would meet her needs and get her back on her feet when she fell down and could no longer walk? To what might seem like a simple, yet important issue, such as how might we arrange for delivery of disposable underwear for overnight incontinence?
My mom lived in Florida and my sister and I lived a plane ride away. There were regrets and guilt. We always wished we could do more. We were good daughters and she appreciated our love. I miss being her caregiver. She is in my thoughts and in my heart every day.
My yoga teacher N told us to practice the phrase "I am" instead of "I am not." Perhaps this is a phrase that caregivers of aging parents should practice when they feel overwhelmed. Think about all the things you "do" as a caregiver instead of all the things you "cannot" do.
"When caregiving full time, don't agonize over temporarily setting aside lofty professional and personal goals. You cannot expect to search for the perfect job or write the Great American Novel while juggling three doctor appointments a day and washing soiled sheets. Appreciate the value of what you're doing now. You'll feel less stress and, when these responsibilities are over, still have the skills and wisdom to pursue your dreams," said my friend B. B is a caregiver to her parents who are both in their 90s. Thank you B for all that you do.
"Most important, don't argue about the 'right answer' or 'correct date.' Right doesn't matter anymore. Yes 'em to death," said my friend N. "Secondly, have patience, patience and more patience. N and her husband M are caregivers to her mom who lives in a nursing home and her ailing dad who lives in an apartment. Both of N's parents are in their late 80s. Thank you N and M for all that you do.
"The caregiver is #1 in the equation," added N. "Take care of yourself first. You have to survive."
"It's a conundrum," said my friend L, who is a caregiver to her dad L who has Alzheimer's disease and lives in a nursing home and her mom L who lives on her own. "These are parents who I used to turn to for advice and now I have to give them advice. It isn't easy being the parent to aging parents. It takes lots of patience." L visits her parents regularly. Thank you L for all that you do.
According to AARP, taking care of an older loved one means doing anything from handling their bills, to helping them with meals and driving them to appointments. It's tough, juggling all of those roles. To illustrate the complexity and help the 42 million sons and daughters, friends and spouses caring for parents and loves ones see themselves as caregivers, AARP and the Ad Council are distributing Public Service Announcements as part of National Family Caregivers Month. The PSAs direct caregivers to tools and resources to help caregivers cope with their responsibilities at aarp.org/caregiving.
"Family, friends and neighbors who support a loved one rarely see themselves as a caregiver," said Debra Whitman, AARP Executive Vice President for Policy, Strategy and International Affairs. "And they almost never ask for help. But at some point in their lives most people will be a caregiver or need support. Our campaign is here to remind caregivers that they aren't alone and there is help."
Please take time during the rest of November to give thanks to as many caregivers as you can. Go to thanksproject.org and post a photo, note, video or other comments thanking a caregiver you know. A companion mural will be painted on the side of a NYC building incorporating the names of those thanked.