The trials and triumphs of caregiving
The life of a caregiver — whether for a spouse, parent, child, friend, or anyone — is hard.
Caregivers tend to not identify themselves as such. They are just doing the things that need to be done. Somewhere along the way, they tend to lose themselves in the process of spending all of their waking time caring for another.
May is Month of the Military Caregiver. Although this month is set aside to honor those taking care of others, caregivers know: There is no month off from what they do. In May, the American Legion Auxiliary honors our military caregivers, as well as others who are in a caretaking role.
Janine DeGusto Dougherty takes care of her 96-year-old mother, Pauline. She’s been her caregiver since 2007. She is also a general caregiver to her veteran husband, Kevin.
Janine’s days vary, but during an average day, she: wakes up earlier than her mom to get herself ready; gets her mom up and washed and dressed; they eat breakfast and do crossword puzzles; spend time exercising; work on jigsaw puzzles; watch a little TV; her mom takes a nap (giving Janine time to herself); read the newspaper; fill out crossword puzzles; spend time outside; watch a few TV shows; and then bedtime for her mother and a few hours in the evening to herself.
But with everyone required to wear masks all day, Janine knew her mother would be uncomfortable wearing a mask and would have trouble getting it to stay up properly above her nose. Janine decided to keep her mother at home longer, and they have had more time together, but less personal time for Janine.
“I feel like I have to find ways to entertain her, which is what the day center used to do, so I’m behind on everything — cleaning, crafting, gardening. Less time for me,” she said. “The day center would give me time to have an extra few hours for self-care or just to be able to have the time to get things done that I needed to get done.”
During the day, Janine really only gets that two-hour nap period to get stuff done, run errands, or just rest.
One of the hardest parts about being a caregiver is the lack of personal free time, and for Janine, free time to be with her husband. Luckily, she has a sister who comes out every other week for the weekend so Janine and Kevin can have some time together. She added he’s very supportive and also helps take care of her mother.
Despite all of the time and energy it does take to be a caregiver, Janine said it’s also rewarding.
“I know that my mom is being taken care of the absolute best way she possibly could,” she said. “If there’s an issue, I take care of it immediately. I know that I’m getting my mom the best care.”
For those who may someday walk in the steps of a caregiver, Janine offers advice.
“You might not get it, but always ask for help,” she said. “Don’t be proud.”
She also added it’s important to find time for yourself as a caregiver because it can be such an emotionally and mentally draining role. Even if it’s five minutes, half an hour, a weekend, it’s important to regroup for yourself psychologically.
“You have to force it,” she said. “You’re no good for others if you’re not good for yourself.”
Caregiving for anyone is no easy task. It’s a role that constantly requires attention and often leaves caregivers burned out and feeling helpless. Whether you hear it from the person you are taking care of or from others who know all you do, thank you to all of our caregivers. The American Legion Auxiliary supports you!
“It takes a strong person to do it,” Janine said.
Want to help caregivers in your American Legion Auxiliary unit? Here are a few ideas, but get creative!
- Offer to spend time with the person they are caring for so the caregiver can rest, run errands, go out to dinner, etc.
- Make a meal for the caregiver.
- Send the caregiver cards and/or letters to read, sharing that what they do matters.
- Offer to do household chores like laundry or yardwork.
- Purchase gift cards for things like massages, manicures, haircuts, etc.
By Sara Fowler, Staff Writer