Spinning off the famous ideology of a former first lady, “It takes a village to raise a child,” in my opinion, “It takes a family to raise a Grandpa!”
Yes, taking care of Grandpa hasn’t been easy, but with God’s help, and in the context of family, we’re making it. Grandpa’s level of care is way beyond assisted living, more at the high end of skilled nursing. That’s why between all of us, we’re able to take care of him without totally burning out or paying for 24/7 caregivers, he can’t afford. We are the caregivers, specifically my son, 19(the first two years-now married and 22, living in Seattle), and my three daughters, 24 (now 28), 15 (now 18) and 11 (now 15), my husband and myself.
When my brother first decided to bring our father home, I knew we would need help, so I put the word out right away to friends. Dad was pretty weak and we were busy with our home business that gets very busy around Christmastime. It was October and we were already preparing for the rush, so I wasn’t able to devote all my time to Grandpa. At the time, I didn’t realize what these new circumstances would require of me, which was probably just as well. I wouldn’t have had the strength or fortitude to go the distance (insert picture here of deer in headlights).
I could only handle one day at a time, and each time I was with Dad, he made it very clear that no one could take care of him quite like we could. I tried not to let him play on my emotions, but I knew in my heart it was true. Hadn’t he been in the nursing home for four years? Finally, after all had been through, he grew to appreciate and trust his family. We can unequivocally thank the nursing home for that.
We only had a certain amount of money to work with, so we figured for the hours we were offering, we could pay a decent hourly rate, including room and board. I put the word out among friends and was given the name of a young man who felt he had a call on his life to take care of the elderly. He sent a glowing email about himself (I think he should have been a marketing director), his many accomplishments, his passion for the elderly, and how he was comfortable grooming and bathing Grandpa, and doing light housework and laundry.
He had worked a year for an agency taking care of an elderly woman and he came with great references. I soon realized, however, that he hadn’t actually worked for most of the people who were on his list. They obviously wanted him to get a job because he had been unemployed for over a year.
In the long run, caregiver one was more trouble than Grandpa was. From week to week, I felt like I was training someone else’s kid. Even though he was 26, he often had the reasoning of a 12-year-old. He made some very poor judgment calls, but the worst was when the furnace went out on New Year’s Eve. It was a really frigid night, one of the coldest of the year, and caregiver one elected not tell us there was no heat in the house. He had had a couple of beers and wasn’t feeling the cold himself, but in the next room, Grandpa was lying there feeling the chill right down to his bones. He certainly complained the next day, and rightly so. I guess it’s not bad enough that Parkinson’s patients feel stiff as a board, let’s just freeze them to death, too. After three months of needless pain and mental anguish, we let caregiver one go. Everyone in the household breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Next we tried the lady next door (caregiver two) who had sort of been spying on caregiver one and reporting his indiscretions to my brother. We were told that he daily sat on the stoop, smoking cigarettes and talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. We knew he spent a lot of time – killing time, and we expected some down time. Grandpa doesn’t need help every minute of the day, he just needs someone to be available all the time. The problem is, we couldn’t get caregiver one to do the work he was responsible for like throwing Grandpa’s diaper in the outside garbage instead of leaving it laying around his bedroom.
After working for just a week-and-a-half, caregiver two became ill and wouldn’t report for work or return our phone calls. My brother asked her to come over and clean the house, but she never showed up. She was angry we hadn’t given her all the hours we gave to caregiver one, but over the months, Grandpa made it clear he preferred our family over strangers, so in January, we took the plunge and became his full-time caregivers. At least we knew we could rely on ourselves.
Yes, it will take the help of your whole family if you want to take care of an elderly parent who needs a high level of care. As the saying goes, “many hands make light the work, ” but experience has taught us, the only hands you can really rely on are your family’s. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?