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Taking care of our treasures

As I sit and begin to write this, I am taking a break from my second job and a lifelong mission that I have done my best to fulfill — care providing.

I am a part of what has been dubbed “the sandwich generation,” which is made up of people that are caring for their own families as well as taking care of aging parents or family members.

I began care providing at the tender age of 9 for my mom, who has congenital Muscular Dystrophy. Growing up that way lent itself naturally to a career in home health and care providing, so I went on to work for various hospices, home health and in-home supportive service agencies for the next 12 years.

As I got into my early 20s, I switched it up and started testing other pools for the “perfect job,” which took me through a variety of positions from construction and stone masonry to waitressing and managing a hotel. Somehow, I always ended up meeting someone that needed a little extra help that I was glad to provide. Hey, God gave me these gifts, so I’ve got to use them, right?

As a care provider, I have been honored to be involved in some of the most tender, heartbreaking, messy, funny moments in peoples’ lives. Illness and dying are things that approximately nobody really wants to think about, but as a care provider, I was gifted with a chance to discover life’s deeper lessons — the things that people regret, the empathy that is craved and needed so badly, the fact that death is a natural part of life and not something to be feared. I also learned that many that I have cared for really wanted to be heard, more than anything, before they let go.

After beginning this position at Feather Publishing, life laughed and gave me another assignment — to care for my father-in-law after he experienced a stroke in February 2017. The stroke led to vascular dementia, and the last year of my life has been nothing like what I thought it would be.

Enter a fast paced learning curve, where many in the category of care provider lose sleep as they learn the ropes. Things that you may have never considered, from financial decisions to deciding who is going to stay up for the night shift, suddenly become much more important.

I belong to a few care providers’ support and information groups on Facebook, and the input and encouragement has been insanely helpful. A sad byproduct for many care providers is isolation, and having even a remote support group has been a saving grace for many.

One of the largest concerns that these strong people raise relates to how long they can go on being care providers. It’s a 24/7 labor of love, and care providing takes a toll on the provider. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, a coalition of care giving organizations, and AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans, the longer someone spends as a primary caregiver, the more likely it is that his or her health will diminish and that he/she will leave work.

This is a real concern in a world that often requires us to wear multiple hats in order to make ends meet. Caregivers in the generation of those 50 and older stand to lose quite a bit financially in leaving the workforce earlier than planned, with women the largest group accounted for in that bracket.   

According to MetLife, 50-plus aged caregivers potentially lose an average of $303,880 when they leave the workforce early to care for an aging parent.

“Women are more likely to leave the workforce early than men are, and so the differential impact on them is quite dramatic,” says John Migliaccio, director of Research and Gerontology for the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Yet, many find a way to navigate unfamiliar waters and combine both work and care providing, with careful planning and the support of their community, family and friends. For me, one of the tools I have found most helpful in my quest to care for my treasure is found in the services provided by an adult day center in Nevada.

Having access to that center allows me to continue taking care of my father-in-law, and allows him to remain at home with us rather than being placed in a long-term facility. In this past year, realizing how important the activity is for the patient and how vital respite is for the provider has been startling. It’s the one thing that I would hope to see in Plumas County in the future. In such a rural area, those alternatives aren’t always readily available, but imagine the difference that a respite center could make for the many caregivers in our community. It’s worth a thought or maybe two! As time goes on, there have been and will continue to be more in need of care as they age, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

For all of those quietly carrying on and caring so selflessly for the elderly in their lives, thank you. This is one of the hardest jobs you will ever take on, but also one of the most rewarding. Our parents raised us up, and now we have the opportunity to do the same. It’s all about taking care of the treasures we are entrusted with, and those treasures are priceless.

In closing, a quote from Rosalynn Carter says it all for me: “There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

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