Last week I discussed a situation where one child has taken in an ageing and ill parent to live with them and finds that his/her siblings are not contributing to the parent’s care. They are not visiting the parent frequently nor providing a break for their care-giving sibling. This cannot help but cause tremendous anger on the part of the family that is caring for the parent. Resentment directed at not only those at fault, but at each other because of the constant tension.
This situation is not that dissimilar to caring for a parent when you are an only child. In both cases, it is left to you to devise ways to cope with the stress and make the situation better for yourself and your family.
Even in the best of situations, a caregiver needs a break from caregiving. Whether it is to go on a vacatgion, be present at a simchah or, G-d forbid, a tragedy, or just to have a bit of time for yourself; having that break is as important as breathing. Without it you cannot go on. How do you get this break when you have no siblings to pitch in or siblings who refuse to help?
Most Jewish high schools insist on chesed hours from their students. Contacting your local school and asking for an hour a day of visiting time for your parent from the chesed program would be a good place to start. Your parent will enjoy being around new faces and you will have a bit of time for yourself each day. It is important that the students who agree to come know what to expect and that the parent gets used to having them before she is left solely in their care. This should only take about two weeks. After that, the caregiver should take the time for herself, to give to herself, in order to reduce her stress level. She needs to use this time for things she will enjoy − anything that will make her life easier and more pleasant.
Most Bikur Cholim organizations will help with transportation and even companions (if needed) for doctor appointments. The companion might agree to accompany your parent to all his/her appointments. They can take a list of your concerns and questions and bring back answers. This may free you from having to leave work for appointments and tests or give you a break from schedule juggling between parents and children. If you, or your parent, is uncomfortable with an intermediary talking to the doctor, just having someone drive them to the appointment with you meeting them there, may save you considerable time. This is particularly true if you work at the other end of town and go home to pick them up and drive them home for their appointments. It may not sound like much, but you might be surprised at how much tension is relieved after you shed just a bit of constant responsibility.
Hiring a respite worker is another alternative, if you can afford it. These are professionals that will travel with or stay at home will your elderly parent for an extended period. This would allow you to have a vacation with your family or just get away by yourself, while leaving your elderly parent in good hands. Many hospitals and care facilities offer rooms for respite. Here even a multi-handicapped parent can get the care they need while you take a break.
Be direct and open in asking for what you need from friends and family. They may not deliver, but then again they just might. If someone offers to help, tell the person what you need. It is his /her choice if the person wants to make the offer real. Don’t be embarrassed to accept or assume the person really didn’t mean it when it was offered. Such a volunteer might enjoy taking your parent out to the park, play cards or learn together and may even be willing to invite your parent for a Yom Tov meal, giving you and your family a chance to go elsewhere, where you parent is uncomfortable and refuses to go. Having a meal brought over may just give you the break you needed by not cooking that night. At the very least, it will make you feel cared about – something every caregiver needs.
Whether you are a caregiver to a parent without siblings to help, or a caregiver with many siblings who won’t help, it is important to remember that the only person you have control over is yourself. In most cases it is only you that can change your situation. You cannot force people to do what they do not want to do. If you are alone, you may need to find support outside your family. Utilizing a neighbor, volunteer or friend or even someone you hire may go a long way to give you what you have been seeking all along.
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