I’m pleased to partner with Midlife Boulevard in helping to raise awareness about National Family Caregivers Month.
Several years ago, I witnessed firsthand the way my husband’s aunt cared for my mother-in-law, her younger sister, when both were in their 70s. These two devoted sisters had November birthdays, so this is an appropriate time of year to tell the story of Aunt Bette and the bed bath.
When my mother-in-law was in failing health, her sister Bette arrived to pitch in with her care. Bette decided that her sister should be given a bed bath, something I had never heard of before.
“When was the last time you gave someone a bed bath?” I asked her.
“Oh, it must’ve been in the ’40s,” she answered.”But you never forget how.”
So the two of us went to the local giant drug store and filled a cart with tubs, plastic bath sheets, scented bath salts, soft cloths and a few other items. I stood by and watched as Bette urged her sister to relax by letting us pamper her. Though my mother-in-law wasn’t able to use her words to let us know how she felt, we could both see the love and gratitude in her eyes. I’ll never forget how Bette soothed her ailing sister by attending to her most basic needs with the utmost patience and affection. It was all I could do to hold back my tears as I watched this truly intimate act of caregiving. This was just one small glimpse into the lives of those who devote many months and years to taking care of a mother, an aunt, a father, a sister, or a dear friend.
Over the years, many of my friends have assumed the role of caregiver. They are not alone: over 42 million people in this country care for friends or aging family members. And these caregivers often don’t know where to turn for help when they need it.
AARP has assembled an informed community of experts who provide much-needed support, information, tools and tips at aarp.org/caregiving, the Caregiving Resource Center. Needless to say, providing full-time care can be highly stressful work. In many situations, caregivers must also manage their own households, jobs, and financial responsibilities, putting them at risk for depression and anxiety, immunosuppression, cardiovascular disease, and premature aging, among other physiological consequences. They wonder if they’re doing enough, or whether they’re doing the right things–and the transition when caregiver roles are reversed presents its own set of challenges.
A series of public service announcements launched by AARP and the Ad Council dramatically illustrate some of the everyday ways caregivers find themselves in a reversal of roles: when the nurtured become the nurturers. Grab a hankie. . .
Especially at this time of year, caregivers may need additional support. Here’s a resource that offers
some ways to navigate the additional stress that might occur around the holidays:
Additional resources for caregivers:
If you are currently caring for a family member or friend, please make good use of these resources.
This one reminds me of Aunt Bette and the bed bath.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to honor the people you may know who are caregivers, and take a moment to give thanks for all they do.