I count my lucky stars for the day I met Peggy. I’d spent the previous three months caregiving for my mother, practically 24 hours a day. My mom, Cookie, had been through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery and was losing the ability to walk and talk. She was flat-out exhausted, and so was I.
Peggy had been a caregiver for her own mother and other family members. She was between jobs. She needed income and I needed help. After one meeting with Mom and me, we hired Peggy to be my second set of hands — taking Cookie to appointments, spending the night occasionally and handling light cleaning and food preparation.
As Mom’s medical needs increased, I also hired a professional caregiving company with nurses and CNAs to pitch in. While I appreciated their services, they could not do what Peggy could. Years of caregiving meant she just got it. She organized our daily log of symptoms, medications and events. She recognized when Cookie was struggling and needed to check in with the doctors, even finding a doctor who could do a procedure to help give her back her voice after the tumors fully impinged on her vocal cords. Peggy vetted skilled nursing homes and toured many of them on her own time when Mom decided she wanted more intensive therapy to learn to walk again. More than anything, Peggy was a calm, steadying presence for my mom. She’d sit with Cookie and knit hats to keep her bald head warm, chat about the good old days of the ’60s, and comfort her in ways only a peer could. One night, Peggy showed up at the emergency room at 3 a.m., her knitting bag in hand, to be with my mom so I could go home and get some sleep. Peggy was an absolute lifesaver — I couldn’t have been a long-term caregiver without her. Mom has since passed away and Peggy is still a part of my life. She’s not just a friend; she’s family.
That’s my story about how hiring a private caregiver can go right. A decade later and now as a lawyer who specializes in caregiving legal/financial issues, here’s what I did wrong: Peggy and I had no contract in place for her services. She just kept track of her time spent doing things for Mom, and I paid her with a weekly check. When she went above and beyond, I paid her more, but we had no agreement for that. Peggy really wasn’t obligated to do most of the tasks she handled. She could have gotten hurt lifting Cookie and sued us. It was her generous spirit and my leap-of-faith trust in a stranger that made it all work.
Any caregiver will tell you, there comes a point when they feel they can’t caregive any longer without help. We sacrifice our time, health and financial well-being to provide unpaid care to our loved ones. If there aren’t enough family and friends to pitch in, the only option is to hire outside assistance.
Private caregivers fill the professional caregiver shortage
Anyone who’s attempted to hire a professional caregiving service will tell you it can be tough to find reliable help. There’s a nationwide shortage of in-home caregiving aides. Many areas have lengthy waiting lists and a lack of personnel. And as the population ages, the need for in-home aides is only going to grow. Without enough professionals available, more care receivers and their families are exploring hiring privately to fill the gap.