Early this year, I lost my dear mother, Hattie Kane, a modest but blessed and beloved wife and mother. She died of a lengthy illness at the age of 93 after I’d cared for her for eight years, five of them in my home. Largely because of this experience, helping others with their caregiving journey has become a new passion of mine.
At AARP, we say that if you’re not currently a caregiver, you’re likely to be one in the coming years. Are you ready? If not, the best advice I can give is to prepare now.
Of all the family issues that Americans deal with daily, among the most heartrending is caregiving for a loved one. My mother needed an aide with her at all times and could not be left alone. So, I can certainly relate to how some people, despite their abiding love, may feel isolated — especially since information on this issue can be so scarce.
Across the nation, 42 million people are caring for their parents, sick spouses and loved ones for whom they feel responsible. We call these caregivers the silent army.
It is often difficult to find ways to help people through this journey. But there is hope, as AARP works to connect caregivers to community. In doing this, we’ve found that churches are ideal for establishing the wholesome, loving atmosphere needed to support caregivers.
For example, with the help of our AARP North Carolina office, Lorraine Wright of Raleigh has started a caregiving ministry in her church, Watts Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. About seven years ago, Lorraine retired from her job as an accounting professor in order to care for her now 93-year-old mother, Mildred S. McClenny, who has Alzheimer’s.
Recognizing how caregivers need to be cared for, Lorraine started a ministry based on AARP’s Care Buddies system two years ago. The care buddies are people in the church who voluntarily support those members who are caregivers. The ministry also provides information, workshops and encouragement.
In fact, Watts Chapel is one of our newest faith-based partners. Just from the feedback she’s gotten, Lorraine says the new ministry “has been a godsend for a lot of people.”
We in the African American community have a strong tradition of taking people in, taking care of our families and putting their needs first. So, during this National Family Caregivers Month, it’s important for everyone to know that resources exist that offer significant guidance and advice.
Among them are AARP’s Caregivers’ website at http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/ and our downloadable resource guide, “Prepare to Care,” which offers good advice. In a nutshell: Start the conversation with family members, and form a team so everyone will know who the caregivers will be and how they will assist. Make a plan based on what is best for you and your loved ones. Then find support. We compile resources and information for caregivers and their families.
Finally, support a caregiver. Caregiving is work, but it is indeed a labor of love for parents and other loved ones who have given so much.