August 23, 2010: I’m on my way home from work and my cell phone rings. Seeing my aunt’s phone number, I answer while driving (as most good Americans do-smile), expecting one of our usual friendly chats. Instead, she says, “I just had a phone call! Your mother has had a stroke!” In the blink of an eye, my plans for the evening change and I’m now a caregiver times two. You see, I was already a caregiver for my mom’s only sister who just called and, now, I was a caregiver for my mom.

Over the next eight months I experienced 13 major life events. I’ll give you the condensed version – my mother’s stroke and the resulting ramifications (a dozen 500-mile round trips the first 3 months to oversee her care, moving my mother 500 miles closer to me and then moving her 2 more times to find the right place, her development of Vascular Dementia, the loss of almost 45% of body weight due to failure to thrive (resulting in being placed on hospice), my divorce, my only sister’s failing health and death, and the failing health and death of the aunt who had called me. You know those moments in life when there is so much happening that the only thing left is to find a way to laugh or you might lose your mind? At one point, I started telling people that anyone who was elderly or sick should stay away from me because I appeared to be dangerous. Just joking (I think…).

So, what is a caregiver? Merriam Webster defines a caregiver as one who 1) provides direct care or 2) one who gives help and protection to someone. It appears to me that the more common connotation of caregiver is the first definition. In my opinion, the second definition is the more accurate one. Neither my aunt, nor my mom ever lived with me where I provided direct 24/7 care, but I was a caregiver. I was a highly involved caregiver that visited regularly, verified the status of my loved ones, and advocated for them and their best interests.

Why am I writing about this subject? Because I have been a caregiver and I continue to interact with many caregivers online and in my job. Many caregivers are stressed and exhausted, and, worse yet, feeling as bad, or worse, than they look. I find this upsetting. My concern is validated by the number of caregivers whose health declines during their caregiving season or who even die before their loved ones. Is there an answer? While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, I believe there is an answer that helps many.

Look for “Who’s on First? – Part 2”.