If there were Jewish saints, my sister would probably be one. Not because she is the devoted mother of three girls, or a busy interior designer, managing a business and a family along with community works. My sister has earned her honorary halo because she does all the above, while also managing the care of my mother, who suffered a stroke almost two years ago. I am the “long distance daughter”, 1200 miles away from ‘mom’, who now resides in a care facility in suburban Chicago. My long distance role is appointment scheduler, cable payer, and listening ear. (I also try to come in town whenever I can to give can.) While I schedule said appointments, she serves as driver, visitor, companion, errand runner, and emergency contact. Though my brother visits with his boys on weekends, it’s my sister who shoulders the most responsibility.
With a mom in constant crisis, my siblings and I suffer from what has been called “caregiver stress”. When my phone rings and a number displays from my hometown area code, I’m never sure if I’m receiving a friendly call, or a catastrophic one. It turns out we are not suffering alone, and are in good company with millions of others. With more than 44 million caregivers nationwide, “caregiver stress” has become something of an epidemic.
Longwood ACE-certified fitness and nutrition professional, author, and motivational speaker, Bethanne Weiss, also knows something about caregiver stress. Recently, I watched Bethanne in a video excerpt from Growing Bolder https://www.growingbolder.com/confessions-of-a-caregiver-3031717/ in a piece entitled “Confessions from a Caregiver”. Last week we sat down and had a chat, caregiver to caregiver. Bethanne shared that like most of us, she never imagined taking care of her once highly functioning parents. As their health declined, she found herself unprepared to manage their daily lives and crises. A whopping case of “caregiver stress” ensued.
In a five-year period, her parents, Elaine and Manny, had relocated in and out of more than 20 hospitals, rehabilitation and skilled nursing facilities in South Florida and then Central Florida, with each residing in separate facilities at times to meet individual needs. Needless to say, Bethanne spends countless hours managing their health, and traveled frequently to maintain regular visits. Despite her physical stamina and healthful lifestyle, the fitness professional and “Asset Queen” (specializing in having students move their “assets”) found her life spiraling out of balance.
Today, Bethanne’s parents live about 2 miles from her house, both in the same skilled nursing facility, and have been stably located since moving to Central Florida four years ago. Where (and how) did Weiss find her caregiver relief?
At a friend’s recommendation, Bethanne reached out to the Orlando Senior Help Desk (OSHD), a no-cost helpline sponsored by the Jewish Pavilion, and open to the entire community. Like many OSHD callers, Weiss was overwhelmed by the enormous task of managing one crisis after another, and was looking to relocate her parents closer to her own home. She needed help finding a place that could accommodate both parents in the same community, and asked the OSHD Senior Resource Specialist for help.
The OSHD Specialist spent time listening to Bethanne’s concerns, and recommended several homes that could meet both parent’s needs. After visiting several places, she chose a Longwood facility that met the family’s healthcare criteria, and felt “warm, clean, and comfortable”. She shares that placing her parent’s lives in other’s hands was one of the most difficult choices she has ever made, and found that support from the no-cost OSHD to be “priceless”.
Bethanne receives further relief by employing a weekly home care specialist, lifting some of the care-giving burden from her shoulders. The Jewish Pavilion continues to enrich Elaine and Manny’s lives, with staff member, Emily Newman bringing holidays, companionship, and visits right to their door.
And what about my family? While we still struggle with balance like most other families in our situation, we are very fortunate that my mom is receiving super care from her assisted living facility, which we also found with help from the “Help Desk” (future blog). And until my sister is actually sainted, I owe her a big “thank you”, as well as a week off for (very) good behavior when I visit later this winter.