Caregivers of elderly parents assume multiple roles

I was asked to write a year ago about being a caregiver for aging parents.

I respectfully declined — my life, then and now, consumed with caring for my parents, both in their 80s. It is by far the most difficult job I have ever had — and the most rewarding. There are times when I question my sanity, when I want to give up and when my heart swells as I catch a glimpse of the parent I once knew.

Mom was a nursing assistant. She often took my sister and me to her home-care cases. I remember the pride she took in bathing her patients, the smile she had as she fed them and the genuine concern she gave them all. I knew then that I wanted to be just like her.

Fast forward to today: I’ve been married for 30 years. We have two wonderful daughters. Two-and-a-half years ago, I resigned from a job I loved as supervisor of an outreach team and case manager at a health center. I worked long hours, helped the underserved and life was pretty good. Then, I became the primary caregiver of my elderly parents.

Caring for my parents was not a surprise. I knew this would someday be my role. I’ve been a nurse for more than 30 years and experienced so many situations in my field. I can tell you exactly what the role entails:

• A caregiver must have compassion, the ability to have empathy for those in need, regardless of who they are.

• A caregiver must be able to multitask and be flexible, ready at a moment’s notice to drop everything and make adjustments. For instance, last Thanksgiving, when both of my parents’ aides called off, my family served me my turkey dinner at 10 p.m.

• A caregiver must be an advocate, a voice for those who can no longer make decisions for themselves or who have difficulty understanding.

I live in the moment. Yes, I’m exhausted. Yes, I’m always on the run. Yes, my day is full of twists and turns, like the one that brought me to the emergency room. I held my dad’s hand, studying the veins that appear more blue than green. I listened to a one-sided phone conversation of a man telling his wife, “I’m sorry I won’t be there to do the barbecue. Dad’s sick. He needs me here.” I pray she understood. We locked eyes for a moment, this son and me. We smiled, knowing life without our parents will someday create a void no one else can fill.

Delgado Sutton, LPN-AA, is an independent case manager.

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