Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 496(269) Retired and being a Caregiver

Welcome to Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Sometimes I think being retired and being a caregiver are synonymous - at least for a few years.  Retirement usually comes to us in our sixties and it is at that same age that our parents are moving into their eighties. It is also at this time that our children are moving into their thirties and forties - the time for splitting up - divorce. There are very likely grandchildren that may need some attention from grandparents.  Sandwiched between grandparents and grandchildren it is easy for many of us to assume the role of caregiver. No matter our retirement plans we may need to make some changes.

In my town hundreds of caregivers convene each year for an annual meeting at a local hospital. A few years ago I was encouraged to attend because of some classes I was scheduling for the local community college. I sat through the day and listened to testimonies of caregivers and talks by experts. I left believing I had just spent the day with a band of angels.

These people worked with folks who are near the end of their life or have special needs. The caregiver has to extend not only constant physical attention but psychological support. They also work at the lowest level of the pay scale. The trade does not legally require extended training, licensing or college degrees. People tend to drift into the field who have difficulty finding jobs in the factory or office that might pay better. Of course this generality does not apply to all who earn the moniker "caregiver". Some do it just because they care.

Story after story was told of the care and sympathy extended and the loneliness and difficulty experienced. Some caregivers attend to their own parents, children or grandchildren. Other caregivers attend to parents that have been abandoned by their own  children. Or there are the children who have been abandoned by their parents. It was not easy to hear their stories. But it certainly left an indelible mark in my  mind. I still think of caregivers as saints.

My own mother fell and broke her pelvis at at age 88. Hospitalization and then time at a care center followed. We drove back to the midwest at first notice. Then I over reacted and rented an apartment to be with her until she could move back home. I had two sisters living in her small town. Upon reflection I realized I had over reacted. My presence wasn't really needed. She lived another four years. Most of that in a nursing home. They seemed to be the happiest days of her life. She flourished. My experience in a caregiver role never really materialized. Within a month we had let our apartment go and headed the car west.

My wife's parents were hospitalized on occasion but death came rather quickly to each and we did not experience being their caregivers either. Once again distance made our role very limited. Two sons lived fairly close and assumed that role which never came down to actually living with and attending to daily needs.  

We have a good friends right now who experienced caregiving for first his father and then his mother. They took their six year old daughter out of school and moved from Missoula, Montana to Anchorage, Alaska to care for his father. They stayed in his house and took total control of his care: feeding, bathing, medicating, etc.. They devoted two full years to caring for him. Soon after his death his mother needed attention and they moved to Bellingham, Washington to be with her.

She was moved from her home to a small apartment. When that became to difficult and  dangerous.  She moved into an assisted living care center. He visited her each morning and evening. He took her to his house or out to dinner probably five nights out of each week. She was one well cared for and lucky mother. He knew everyone in the care center and says that he really enjoys going over their and talking to residence on a daily basis. When he signed his mother out for dinner most evening he noticed that most residence never got signed out nor do the records indicate any visitors. It is a sad situation. He served in this role for five or six years before she spent her last days in our hospice care facility.

I have never heard him complain of his caregiver status. He seems gratified to be able to help. "I really look forward to going out there", he says. "And mom is so happy it makes me happy. These are probably the happiest days of her life. I think that is why she is still living. She is having a good time".

Another friend of mine recently related the story of his role in caring for either his parents or grandchildren both at the same time. His father lived into his 90's and only required some attention two or three days each week. He was for the most part cared for by his wife who recently died at age 95.. She lived alone up until the end still shoveling snow from her sidewalk and driveway. My friend has three  daughters all have small children and no fathers in the house. My friend who is retired spends some time each week picking kids up from school, taking them places, and attending to any special needs. He says that he likes being able to help both the parents and the grandchildren but I'm not sure this is what he had in mind when he retired.

We recently hired a plumber to do some work on a small remodel we are doing. We have used him before and always feel blessed when he comes on the job. He told us about a month ago that he was retiring. He was in the process of building on to his house for another major change in his life. His son and three children are moving back home. He smiled when he told us and said he was looking forward to it. But I'm sure this has not been his dream as he neared retirement age.

Life is that way. Surprises come our way. Yesterday the sun was shinning and the snow was falling at the same time. Retirement can be that way. We had best be prepared for some surprises.

This is Retirement Talk.

If you have a retirement story that you think others may find interesting please contact: Perhaps we can arrange an interview over the phone or with Skype.



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