Caregiving: From just helping to full-time

Creative piece written for and previously published on the Good Samaritan Society’s public website, This was taken from personal experience watching the relationship between my dad and his mother, my grandmother. It is an article about a caregiver’s journey to not only full-time caregiver, but also coming to the realization that he is in fact a caregiver.

A caregiver’s journey: From “just helping” to full-time care

My father’s journey as a caregiver started long before he recognized what he was doing. He simply viewed the errands and other tasks he did for his mother as helping her when she needed her son.

His journey began after his father passed away unexpectedly. Dad and his four brothers began spending more and more time at their mother’s house, they talked more frequently with her on the phone and ran errands. Family members gathered around to provide support and comfort.

As the immediate pain of loss began to reside, however, people began to resume their normal routines. Loneliness began to grow for my grandmother.

Dad’s mom had depended on her husband for many things, including heavy lifting, yard work and being a companion during social events. He was the social one in their relationship. He went to the local gas station not once, but twice a day to drink coffee and “talk smart” with others from his generation. Grandma spent most of her time with her family.

At first, my dad stepped in out of the desire to help and to be there during the grieving process. Eventually, the tasks and errands became ingrained into Dad’s daily schedule, as well as his four brothers’ schedules.

He picked up her mail, shopped for her groceries, took her to appointments and helped her with an assortment of other small jobs like getting her holiday decor from the garage. He simply stated, “It’s just easier if I do it.”

He told me, “She’s my mother. I only have one mother. I knew that if we (Dad and his brothers) didn’t help her some, she wouldn’t be able to be independent. We were caregivers when we were needed.”

As I watched him look out for my Grandma and, at the same time, take care of his own family, I began to see traits and signs of caregiver burnout. Slowly, my dad began to realize that maybe what he was doing was caregiving.

Then, the worst happened.

It was the week of my wedding. Dad, frazzled with a long to-do list, didn’t call Grandma one evening. The next morning, he found his mother on the floor trying to say she had fallen late the night before. She couldn’t move. An ambulance took Grandma to the hospital located an hour away. My Grandma’s speech was jumbled, but one of the things Dad could make out was that a card was on the counter for my wedding.

When I arrived home for my wedding, Dad, with a brave face, gently told me that Grandma was in the hospital after she had fallen. He said the doctors thought it was a stroke. Then, trying desperately to hold it together, he broke down and hugged me.

Quickly, Dad pulled it together. I asked, “Dad, how are you going to handle all of this and the wedding?” Dad stood a little taller and said with a slight smile on his face, “Honey, I live on adrenaline. I can do this.”

Guilt overwhelmed Dad with him thinking, “If I had only called, I would have been able to help sooner.” My family rallied around him in support saying that it wasn’t his fault.

At first, Dad and his brothers struggled to come up with a plan for Grandma. Nursing homes are limited in small towns. After the family discussed it, they all agreed to have her remain in town at the nursing home with her own room. Dad made sure to reiterate,

“It all depends on us to keep her spirits up and whether or not she wants to try to get better.”

Dad now visits his mother about five times a week at the local nursing home.

“I don’t always feel like it, but I go anyway because of my soft heart. I don’t want her to sit alone. I have learned though that I have my own life to live and my own obligations too.”

He works during the day, rushes home for supper and then spends the rest of the early evening reading the paper to Grandma, working on her speech therapy and generally spending time with her. Dad then spends the remainder of the evening unwinding at home before falling asleep in the living room recliner.

Because Dad and the rest of the family continually visit Grandma at the nursing home, she has been striving to get better in both physical and speech therapy, which has significantly been paying off.

“At this time, we don’t know what her outcome will be, but we need to take one day at a time. We don’t know what the future holds. We have to encourage her in her recovery, so she can live the best life she can for the rest of her years.”