Welcome to the blog carnival featuring some of the blogosphere’s most eloquent writers. We’ll be highlighting the work of 8 women who write about what it feels like to be a primary caregiver to someone who depends on you — whether you’re on vacation, it’s a holiday, it’s an emergency at three in the morning, or through all the highs and lows of sickness and health.
We’re continuing to bring attention to the important work that caregivers willingly do. So let’s give thanks to the caregivers in our lives for unpaid work that weaves so many lives together, yet can often leave the caregiver herself or himself frayed and unraveled.
We spent Saturday afternoon visiting some local attractions with my friends Nancy and Niles. But first, Nancy had to make sure her 92-year-old mother was comfortable. She was just getting down to breakfast when we arrived.
“You may want to take a shower while we’re gone,” Nancy suggested to her mom. She sighed to me. “She’ll probably still be sitting there when we get home.”
The three of them have been living in Nancy’s childhood home for several years now, ever since Nancy realized her mom was no longer able to care for herself. Her friends (including me) thought this was a terrible idea, and we told her so. But without resources for full-time care and no siblings willing to help, what was Nancy to do?
Since then, Nancy has had problems of her own. She’s been treated for cancer — TWICE. And a couple of years ago, she was dealt the cruelest blow of all: Her 54-year-old husband Niles was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Nancy supports them all. She works from her home office a few days per week, but cannot be home all the time. Leaving the house often means hiring someone who can watch over her mother. And after Niles’ recent chicken-in-the-microwave mishap (which caught on fire), she worries that he can’t be left home without supervision, either.
According to the AARP, Nancy is one of 34 million Americans who care for an adult family member with an illness or disability. An additional 13 million people care for children with special needs. Two thirds of these unpaid family caregivers are women. They may be caring for elderly parents, disabled partners, or children with special needs. Many lose hours at work or have to quit their jobs in order to give the care their family members need. This affects their future income, as well, causing them to retire with lower Social Security benefits.
AARP estimates that the worth of all the unpaid care in the United States totals $450 billion annually.
Niles has been a part of our extended family for over 30 years. He was a special guest at our small wedding (only 35 people attended), and he met Nancy the following year when we celebrated our first anniversary. We were witnesses when they got married on Valentine’s Day 11 years ago. They were both regular guests at all our holiday celebrations: Thanksgiving, Passover, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year. But once they moved back in with Nancy’s mom, getting out for an evening or a weekend was no longer easy — even when mom was included, Nancy’s attention was on her: seeing that she had a comfortable place to sit, helping her with her meal, helping her to the restroom, and leaving early. And now Niles needs her for most of those activities, too.
We hope to get together with them for a nice dinner before Christmas – but much will depend on whether or not Nancy can find someone to watch her mom so she and Niles can go out. I would love to give Nancy the gift of time for herself. I think she needs it.
This holiday season, show the family members and friends who are doing so much to help others that you care. Visit GiveACare.org to personalize a video greeting for the caregivers in your life.
DISCLOSURE: I have been contracted – along with some of the other MOMocrats – by the Give A Care campaign to raise their profile through social media. If you have a caregiver story to share for our blogger carnival, please leave me a comment below. This post has been revised since its first appearance at Thanksgiving.