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The Rewards of Caregiving

July 15, 2011

A personal epilogue.

"Where is Dad?" I remember asking, after my family and I had spent a good part of the day in synagogue during one of the Jewish high holidays.  My brother checked the men's room and I walked around asking family friends if they had seen my father.  It was a beautiful fall day, and my father loved to take walks along the old railroad track behind the synagogue that had recently been converted to a bike trail.  And then he emerged from the woods which marked the perimeter of the winding, scenic bicycle path.  My father, in his suit and tie who a few hours earlier looked so dapper, now appeared slightly disheveled, agitated and confused.

"Dad, where have you been? We've been looking all over for you!" I exclaimed.  In an angry tone, he answered, "I went to pick up my dry cleaning!"

That was 15 years ago and it marked the beginning of our family's journey as caregivers.  As a social worker with more than 20 years experience in the eldercare field and as an adult child of a father with progressive dementia, I know the challenges, burdens, and uncertainties that caregivers face every day.  I understand the difficulties of juggling my own family and work responsibilities with the demands of caring for a parent who cannot care for himself.  I have heard hundreds of stories of people like myself, who find themselves in a role that they did not anticipate or prepare for.  At times isolated, uncertain, sad, and hopeful, family caregivers move forward with compassion and strength and are the centerpiece of our nation's system of long term care.

Over the years, my family has struggled with many difficult decisions regarding my father's care, faced numerous obstacles within the health care system, and tried to balance my father's needs with my mother's ability to care for him safely at home. Four years ago, we made the difficult decision to place my father in a nursing home.

Making effective decisions about the care of a loved one often takes more time than anticipated and requires an understanding of the long-term care system that many caregivers lack.  Care.com's Senior Care guide is meant to be a valuable resource, providing important information about types of care, costs, resources, and the complex and ever-changing landscape faced by caregivers throughout their journey.

While a tactical approach to caregiving is essential in providing the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions, caregiving is so much more than checklists and roadmaps. It is an opportunity to redefine our relationships with our parents and loved ones, learn from them as they endure chronic illnesses and the infirmities of old age, and embrace the precious time to just be together.

Our family is fortunate in many ways. My mother, who visits my father everyday in the nursing home, finds ways to remain engaged with my dad through story-telling, humor, reminiscing, and compassion. Despite the toll that dementia takes, my father has taught me many things as he has bravely retained his personhood.  Through his kindness, loving nature and remarkable ability to live in the moment, my father has demonstrated that quality of life can persevere despite a devastating illness and that loving bonds can, in fact, be strengthened as the caregiving torch is passed from one generation to the next.

As you approach your own unique caregiving journey, I hope you can find the support and guidance you need to deal with the emotional, physical, and logistical challenges ahead.  And while there will certainly be hurdles, may you also cherish the small rewards: a sweet smile of appreciation, a warm embrace, and the unspoken recognition that your efforts as a caregiver will enrich and sustain the lives of those you love.

>>Review the Senior Care Index for all senior care options.

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