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Caring for the Caregiver

Sometimes we get so involved in caring for our loved one that we forget about our own needs.

En español | Don't ask me the date. Don't ask me the time. And don't let me forget what it felt like to fall apart.

Caregiving is hard, it hurts, it lifts you with hope, then drops you into an abyss of fear. Repeat.

Dad was dying of stage IV pancreatic cancer. Tired of being poked, scanned, and sliced—and two months shy of 87—Joseph D. Bencomo chose hospice. We eight siblings chose to join Mom in caring for him at home. We took turns traveling a few blocks to thousands of miles to be with Dad in his last stage of life. It was too short. He survived three weeks post-diagnosis.

Not long after Dad died, our already broken hearts shattered. Our 86-year-old mother, Julieta S. Bencomo, began her decline. Caregiving visits resumed; this time they spanned 10 months. Despite sharing the care—in-laws and grandchildren pitched in, too—at one point or another each of us slammed into our limitations. When we did, who cared for us?

Photo of dad and mom

Reneé Comet

Juggling caregiving with raising families and being good employees required assistance. Here's what helped us.

Share and Share Differently: Mom's and Dad's deaths gave us lessons in life. We learned to value and use each others' strengths. The cooks cooked, problem solvers found solutions, the strongest helped with the lifting and carrying, the psychologist listened and counseled, the most patient spent hours soothing shriveling limbs and fragile bodies, and the "investigators" looked for information. We all relied on humor.

Use It or Lose It: When exhaustion sets in or your loved one asks a question for the hundredth time, take a break. If hospice is part of your care plan, ask about respite care. Most provide professional caregivers who can periodically take over daytime or nighttime duties. If your loved one is eligible for Medicaid—a program for low-income people—ask about home-health aides, adult daycare, and other services that can help relieve the caregiver. Don't lose out; always ask about such benefits.

On the Job: Find out if your employer offers an employee-assistance program. These often can help with work/life balance by providing counseling, strategies, and other services. We took advantage of AARP's employer-offered free service that evaluated Mom's needs—mental, emotional, and physical—then provided resources and counseling for us to use.

To Your Health:
Sometimes we get so involved in caring for our loved one that we forget about our own health needs. Be sure to make time for annual physicals plus dental, vision, and other doctor's appointments.

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