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Care for the caregiver

DALLAS (BP)–No one likes to be labeled, but I am of the Baby Boomer Generation, born from 1946 to 1964. (You can just assume I am really close to the 1964 end of the spectrum.) We are mostly suburban kids who grew up watching “The Mickey Mouse Club,” “The Rifleman” and “The Munsters.” There are 78 million baby boomers and 13 million of them care for aging parents.

During a four-week period in 1996, I worked full-time at GuideStone and spent every weeknight and weekend during that time helping my mother care for my father, who was dying from cancer. I wouldn’t trade anything for those last four weeks of caring for my father, but it was physically and mentally straining on us.

We did this, though, only for four weeks. There are so many who care for parents with Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer and such for much longer extended periods of time.

How can we care for those who are the caregivers?

In preparation for this article I talked with one of my best friends who is the primary caregiver for her husband who is in the fourth stage of cancer. The doctors said he wouldn’t live longer than March 2006. It is now 2007. I asked her: Looking back at what you have learned in the last 12 months of taking care of your husband through cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation, alternative treatments, his inability to eat, a feeding tube, a tracheotomy, hearing loss, endless doctor and hospital visits while also trying to work 40 hours a week to maintain the insurance, what would you tell others about caring for a caregiver?

Here’s what she said she learned:

— It’s OK if the caregiver depends on others. Friends and other family members are always wondering what they can do to help the caregiver. It’s OK to let them help. Don’t steal a blessing God may have in store for them.

— Send cards instead of making phone calls. When it gets to the point that the caregiver is the only one answering the phone, imagine how many times he or she has to stop and give the same report to so many well-wishers.

— Help clean their house. When you are spending all of your time caring for someone it is easy to let the dishes, clothes and dust pile up. Friends and family should either pitch in the money to procure a maid service or do it themselves periodically. A clean house is always appreciated.

— Give the caregiver a break. It is easy for caregivers to lose their health because of the stress involved in caring for an ailing person. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to come over and sit with the ailing person long enough for the caregiver to have some respite. This respite could be a massage, pedicure/manicure, lunch/supper with a friend, etc.

If you haven’t already experienced this there’s a good chance that you will in your lifetime. Learn to care for one another.
Tamara Quintana is a graduate of All Saints Episcopal Hospital School of Vocational Nursing and the director of the employee wellness program for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Tamara Quintana