Caregivers’ Corner: Serious Illness Alters Family Roles

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2013 12:23

“My husband is supposed to take care of the bills and I keep telling him he has to do it. I’m already doing too much.”

“My wife yells at me when I try to mow the lawn. She says it’s her job.”

“Mom insists we have Thanksgiving at her house, but the turkey was only half cooked last year and she didn’t notice.’”

As a loved one slides into dementia or other severe long-term illness, we watch the relationship we once had slip away. And with it, the roles that we’ve always assumed with each other must adjust or change completely.

One of the hardest, saddest truths of being a caregiver is that you’re now the one in charge, whether you’re a wife, husband, daughter or son. Responsibilities that may have been shared at one time are now yours.

If your husband with early Alzheimer’s has always taken care of the bills and made sure the car receives necessary maintenance, expect that you’ll need to monitor both and eventually take them on. If your wife with Parkinson’s has always been the household chef and mowed the grass, start taking lessons in cooking and lawn care now for the day you need them.

If your mom, who is in declining health, has always loved hosting Thanksgiving for the entire family, decorating the house and preparing a feast for kids and grandkids, look for ways to begin sharing the load and adjusting family expectations.

Even if your diplomatic skills are exemplary, expect some resistance. It’s difficult and scary to let go of familiar habits and roles for both care receivers and caregivers.

“I’ve run a business my whole life. I can decide if we invest some savings in a good deal overseas,” proclaims the angry husband.

“It was just a burning pot. I can manage my own home. Remember I’m the one who taught you to cook,” hollers the frustrated mom.

Joan Jackson

As the  caregiver, you’re now in charge. The familiar old roles must often be set aside. Rather than responding as wife, husband, son or daughter – you lovingly step fully into the role as caregiver.

As one wise caregiver told her support group after some tough battles and a very steep learning curve: “When I’m taking care of my mom, I can’t be her daughter – I have to be her caregiver. Otherwise it tears me up too much.”

Joan Jackson is a partner with Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (588-1835). Services include free caregiver support groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

Copyright © 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2013 12:23
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