Who is a caregiver?
Nearly 1/3 of Americans serve as family caregivers and millions more serve as paid professional caregivers. The Caregiver Space is sharing their stories.
Tell us about yourself.
What can I say? I am 22 years old, fixing to be 23 years old in December. I am currently studying online for my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in sociology. I am big sister to two boys and sibling to two others I have never met.
Besides “caregiver,” what other identities do you have?
I am a book-lover and a cat-lover, big sister to two boys, four if you count the siblings I have never met. I am also the girlfriend of a 911 dispatcher and an online student attending Eastern New Mexico University. I currently hold Jr status, got two more years of college and I cannot wait to graduate!
Who are you caring for? What is your caregiving story?
I was caring for my boyfriend’s grandmother. When I met her for the first time, her usual caregiver was fixing to move out of town. When that happened, she kept going through caregivers and none of them seemed to survive nor get along with her. I was recently out of a job– the daycare I worked for became strapped for cash and I was let go for reasons that were not known to me. After not having a job for months my boyfriend pitched to me the job of helping out his grandmother, someone who he also considered his mother. She was very close to him and she practically raised him off and on; they had a very close bond that I wished for.
About one to two weeks later, after going through training, I started my first day as her caregiver. I can admit it was hard, she yelled at me for so many simple mistakes that I kept making, but I told myself I needed this job. I could not lose this job. I was 20 at the time and losing my calm, I could understand she was in a lot of pain and she was sick. She needed my help. I could not let her down, especially since her “son” was my boyfriend and I wanted to make him proud too–so I stuck it out.
The company that I worked for wanted me to see other clients, but his grandmother insisted that I stay with her because I was unfamiliar with the town she lived in and knew no-one. As time went by, I made less mistakes and got my job done and our relationship improved. When I was done with everything, I sat with her and talked with her and she shared stories of her grandkids (my boyfriend and his brothers). I shared stories of my life and what I’ve been through and I began to think of her as the grandmother I never had. She often told me hints about my boyfriend and wanted to teach me so many tricks that he liked. Recipes that she made, she wanted me to have, but she never got the chance to.
Her health declined about a half a year into me working for her and she soon lost the use of her legs due to an ongoing illness. I am a “small large person” you could say, as I am plus-size but I am small and so I could not lift her to help her at all. I soon was transitioned out of the job, which was given to another person who could be there more than I could be.
I often stopped by with my boyfriend and talked with her, and she often asked if I could stay the night with her. I declined almost every time, which is one of the things I feel the most guilt about. Don’t get me wrong; she had family that loved her and stopped by on occasion, but it was seldom she wanted company and that’s all she wanted. She was a homebound person most of the time, due to her blindness and the illness with her legs. She lived alone, my boyfriend had moved out and gotten a place with me, so when he was gone, she lived alone. That is the one thing that keeps going through my mind now.
Once her health declined we did not know that would be the last few months we would have with her. She was transferred to an out-of-state hospital and soon after that she passed away. I had plans to surprise her that weekend by traveling up with my mother to see her. About five days before I was supposed to leave we all got that dreaded phone call early on Saturday morning, and she was gone…she gave up the fight that none of us thought she would give up. Coming back to it I feel a lot of guilt for not staying over and keeping her company. That’s all she wanted was someone there to pass the time.
The funeral came and went, I showed my true spirit. I couldn’t stop crying about it; I kept thinking about everything she taught me, everything she told me that still rings true today. The one lesson she always told me was no matter what is going on in your life always keep your head up and smile because nothing is bad forever.
What do you wish you were told before you became a caregiver?
This one seems easier: you are going to need a lot of patience and a lot of self-control not to get angry and fight.
What advice would you give to other caregivers?
Don’t over think everything, don’t take things literally because sometimes things are said out of anger and sometimes pain. I remember her getting very angry at me because I touched something that hurt, I cried because it broke me, but about five minutes later she said sorry and gave me a tissue.
What’s been the hardest part of caregiving for you?
When she passed away, it was getting used to the fact that she wouldn’t be around anymore. She wouldn’t call me to ask me the “gossip” of the day, or blow up my cell phone asking me how my day was going on my day off. It hurt to know this.
What’s the most rewarding part of caregiving?
Having the person you are caring for happy, and in a good mood because they are cared for.
What’s the best tool or strategy you’ve found to help you with caregiving?
Being patient; enough said.
In ten words or less, what has caregiving taught you?
It has taught me patience and understanding of someone’s life and health.