I was with a group of friends recently in the midst of getting a location ready for a cookout. This was an annual event for my high school classmates and me.
Essentially, it’s a reason to eat barbecue ribs and chicken, devour as many side dishes as possible, engage in fellowship and find things to drink that I really do not need to mention in his column.
While I was helping a classmate bring some sweet dishes to a table, I happened to ask the wrong question. “How are things going with you?” She started her answer then began to cry.
I was caught off guard and didn’t know what to say. This was definitely not the time for one of my wisecracks. As it turned out, she was trying to determine what to do with her aging and ill mother whom she is taking care of at her home. The question was whether to keep her at home, move her back to her own home or move her to a nursing facility.
This past Wednesday, another classmate called to say she was sad about missing a big social event our class held recently. Additionally, she had missed several church services, all because she is caring for her ill mother and stepfather. Her mother also has dementia.
She talked about how tired and stressed she is all the time. There is a sitter that provides her an occasional breather. But, my friend said she is full-time with her parents on the weekend. And now that she will be returning to work in a week, she has to find someone to care for her parents on an all-day basis.
She can write a book about the things — such as calling the police for an imagined event — that her mother has done that have scared her and broken her heart.
“Edward, you just don’t know,” she said.
My friends and I are at the age now where many of us are our parents’ keeper. It is rewarding, terrifying and stressful all at once.
In some cases, we have to make the tough decision that they need to have around-the-clock care, which would require them to be in a nursing home. In many instances, those two words are difficult to utter and to hear.
Years ago, my dad lived with me while recovering from a second stroke. A nurse would come to the house three times a week to see him.
Soon, he wanted to be on his own. We chose a great assisted living facility for him. After a couple years, his health deteriorated, and he had a leg amputated. Dementia was starting to set in, also. He wound up in a nursing home because he needed continuous care. I was devastated that he was there. But it was the best situation for him, my family and me.
I was left with the questions: “Did I do enough? Is there something else I could have done?”
Even with a parent in a nursing home or assisted living facility, the caregiver is still with them. You think about them at work, while you’re driving home and when you’re in the grocery store.
Sometimes, you feel guilty while on a vacation that you can’t be there for them. You’re sitting in a football game and your mind drifts to what’s going on with your parent or sibling.
It’s troubling when you see them start to fade. You do have victories when they see you and smile or there is a momentary break in the battle for their brains, and they can remember you and something great that you did together.
There are millions of adults who are caregivers. Many of them do it alone or with their spouses. It is a labor of love.
I know a lot of you who read this column have been or are caregivers now. I applaud the love that you dispense and the trials you go through each day of your caregiving, and know what you experience when it ends.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.