As an aging society, there is a lot of focus being placed on the fact that our senior population is going to get much larger as the baby boomer generation moves into their later years. Being one of those people, I have a keen focus on that particular issue. Unfortunately, there are some that will be faced with the added responsibility of becoming care givers, especially as we continue to deal with such a rising rate of Alzheimers and dementia, not to mention other debilitating diseases.
There is so much time spent on caring for those afflicted with these terrible diseases, that sometimes the very people that we lose sight of are the care givers themselves. Anyone who hasn’t experienced that responsibility first hand, or had a parent or friend that has had to shoulder that responsibility, may not quite understand exactly the toll that it takes on the care giver themselves.
My grandmother lived with my parents for over 30 years. It was in the last 5 years of her life that she developed dementia. She started showing signs much earlier, we just didn’t recognize them. My mom was determined to take care of her until the end. When she kept trying to run away, my mom slept on the floor at the foot of her bed every night to ensure that she stayed safe. She was with her constantly to make sure that she was cared for. It was only when she became combative and became a danger to herself and others that the family had to make the decision every family dreads to put her into care. Even then, my mom and dad were there every day, made sure she was clean, had a decorated room and all the comforts of home. My mom always said, “we do what we have to do”.
A year and a half after my grandmother passed, the family would do it all over again for my mom’s younger brother who passed very quickly from dementia as well near 70 years old. He was not in a community close to home, so trips out of town were added to the routine. Once again my mom said, “we do what we have to do”.
I have friends that used to be available to go out to dinner on a moments notice that now work their regular jobs and spend their evenings and weekends taking care of their elderly parent. I spent seven years of my relationship alone every other weekend so that my significant other could go down and take care of a father with Parkinson’s so the sister could get a break from taking care of him all week. We did that because we “do what we have to do”.
Care givers are the unsung heroes in these situations. The devotion and love that they show is unmeasurable. The pieces of their life that they give up so that others can be cared for and the unselfish way in which they do it are one one of the beautiful things in life that rarely gets celebrated. They often run themselves into the ground, sometimes to the detriment of their own health so that others can be cared for.
People may look up to sports stars, movies stars or others in the entertainment world as their heroes. These are my heroes. These are the people that give so that others can have. These are the people that show true love, compassion and dedication even though they are dealt a hand that they didn’t ask for. These are the people that “do what we have to do” and today I salute them and thank them for showing humanity what it is all about.
Remember to be the reason someone smiles today.