My Family Caregiver Journey

Mar 13, 2023 | Home Care Services

After running a home care business for the last 3+ years and being a nurse for 16 years, I thought I was an expert on what caregivers (family, paid, unpaid) experience daily. Every time I meet a new family, I listen to their struggles, their stress, their pure exhaustion, and I think…I understand. I totally get it. But what I found out last summer was…I was mistaken. In fact, I was utterly wrong. I had no idea. That was until, as fate would have it, my mother fell on our last night while on vacation in Sea Isle City, New Jersey.

The Emergency

I got the panicked call from my Dad. My Mom fell and I needed to get home as fast as I could. I hopped on my old, rusty beach cruiser and sped towards the house. As soon as I turned into the driveway, I could see my Mom on the ground holding her wrist…except it didn’t look at all like a wrist. It was going in three different directions. I  rushed over and tried to help her but to make matters more complicated, she couldn’t put any weight on her left foot. We called 911.

The Scramble

Fast forward two weeks later…
– 3 broken bones
– surgery
– plates and screws
– a week in the hospital
– a week in rehab

It was clear that my Mom needed around the clock care. I understood that this would be too much for my Dad to handle alone. And so Mom came to stay at our house with Chris, me and the kids.

The Life of a Family Caregiver

She was non-weight-bearing on her left wrist and left foot. She required help with bathing, toileting, and all daily transfers. We had wheelchairs, platform walkers, ramps, commodes, and shower chairs. I was able to do all this fairly easily, because, well…I am a nurse. This is what I do. I didn’t think. I just reacted and did what had to be done. It’s my mother. As my 13-year-old son wrote on her welcome home card, “You changed our diapers, Grandmom. It’s our turn to take care of you.” Thankfully, my sister lives around the corner and my Dad was able to help every day as well. But the stress crept in and manifested in different ways for all of us. For the first time in my life, at 76, my Mom felt old to me (sorry, Mom). And in an odd role reversal, I became the person that, as a home care provider, that we’re always trying to help. I had aging parents, young kids, and a family business plus, at the time, back-to-school schedules were looming at the end of August. I was tired, stressed, and worried all the time. My inner monologue sounded like this…on repeat.

Was she comfortable here? How was my 84-year-old father adjusting to living alone for 8 weeks? Was my husband okay? Were the kids okay? Was I doing enough? Was I going to make someone feel guilty if I  asked for help? Could I tell my Mom at times I was drowning. Would it make her feel terrible? But I kept going, kept caregiving. I was confident I could manage it all…

The Other Shoe Drops

In the middle of September, my Dad had an outpatient procedure. He did not recover well. He had a terrible reaction to the anesthesia and the procedure itself. He was forgetful,  nauseous, in pain, barely eating, and completely unsteady. And so my Dad moved in as well. And same as my with my Mom, for the first time in my life, my 84-year-old father felt old to me.

The Hard Truth – I Need Help.

And just like that, I had aging parents. During this time, I was reluctant to accept help, ask for help, or let anyone know I felt overwhelmed. Chris, my husband and co-owner of 2nd Family, was begging me to see the irony in all of this. We had built a business for this exact reason. But I didn’t want any caregivers there to help my Mom. I was going to
do it. It took several weeks until I realized that this was silly. We had two caregivers come on several occasions to help my parents. These were women we had hired, trained…I knew how wonderful they were. But I was still nervous. Would they be able to care for my parents the way I do? Would my parents be okay with them helping? Would my Dad say something silly and now they think we’re crazy? And it finally clicked, these are the reasons people don’t ask for help:
– Guilt
– Shame
– Fear
– Modesty
– Perception

My own family caregiver journey shed new light on just how hard it is to ask for help. I’ve met families with much sicker parents, much older parents, much more complicated family dynamics, and people without family support.

How have they managed all these years?
How much has this stress affected their health?
How much has this stress affected their relationships?
How has family caregiving affected their quality of life?

In hindsight, what I do know is that our caregivers, Elizabeth and Laure, gave all of us a much-needed break. My parents loved having them. They loved helping them. When my Mom came to our house after her fall, Laure was caring for her and she developed a great relationship with my Dad. They were always laughing and joking and kidding with my Mom as she recovered. And when my Dad needed care, Laure knew his personality, how he relied on his sense of humor…she knew just how to tailor her care for him by using humor to make him feel at ease, “normal” even. Beyond the tasks that my parents’ caregivers provided, the relationships they built with them was what truly made their care exceptional. Their compassion (and humor) allowed my parents to feel comfortable accepting the help, which sometimes is the hardest part of the process. Why did I wait so long with all that I knew?

Chris and I have never been happier to own this business, to help the families that we help, and to do our very best to improve the circumstances of all family members involved  in the care of their loved one. Now seven months later, my Mom and Dad are both recovering well. My Mom is walking again, done wearing her big boot and was just released
from the trauma surgery service. Her surgeon said, “Now, go live your life.” And so that’s what we’re all doing…right after we tossed one particular platform walker in the trash.

2nd Family Home Care (Main Line) is an award-winning non-medical senior home care business. With Pennsylvania locations in Ardmore, Ambler and Center City Philadelphia,  2 nd Family Main Line assists families in need of in-home care for their loved ones.  2nd Family Main Line deploys highly trained, compassionate caregivers to help clients with daily activities including grooming, hygiene, transportation, errands, housekeeping and meal preparation as well as acting as companions for their clients. 2nd Family Home Care provides family caregivers with expert, compassionate home care by incorporating RN care coordination, a technology platform designed for families to monitor care and communicate with the care team as well as elite, CNA licensed, fully vetted caregivers, trained, screened, background checked, and given The Grandma Guarantee®.