This Thanksgiving, WISERs wants to thank all of the wonderful caregivers in America. As our last post for National Caregivers Month, we will share one personal story of a WISER staff member that can really tie some of the various topics of the month together.
My mother was the caregiver of two of my grandparents, her frail and ailing mother and her aging father-in-law whom she viewed as a second father. Both were diagnosed with lung cancer in the same year, and although their paths took very different turns, my mother devoted most of her time to caring for them both.
My grandmother actually began needing help a few years before her cancer diagnosis. She lived alone, after her husband for whom she cared for 20 years passed away from Alzheimer’s. One day she fell, broke her hip, and began a very long journey. She became ill, needed oxygen, required a walker, was in and out of rehabilitation centers, and eventually had to be moved closer to our home, although she still lived a significant distance. By the time she learned of her cancer, my mother had already cared for my grandmother for years.
My grandfather seemed to be doing pretty well until his diagnosis. He liked my mother to come visit him, but could still drive himself and do many of his errands himself. By the end, he needed her assistance with almost everything.
My mother retired early for a couple or reasons, but mostly to take care of her parents. For years she drove them to almost every doctor appointment, radiation treatment, and physical therapy session. She did their grocery shopping, helped them with their finances, and picked up their medicines. It costs her gas money, lunches and dinners as she ran her errands, time at home—all common challenges of caregivers everywhere. It certainly wasn’t easy. Both of my grandparents had strong wills and despised what the disease and their treatments were doing to them. She was, unfortunately, the brunt of some of their anger and depression, which is another common experience amongst caregivers.
My grandparents passed away in 2012, and I know that they were both content in their final days because of the care my mother gave them. She became their caregiver, even to her own financial detriment and mental health. My mother’s experience was not unique. In fact the average caregiver is 49, a woman with a career and children taking care of her widowed 69 year-old mother.
I am thankful for my mother, and all caregivers who sacrifice for others. I hope that the blogs this month have assisted caregivers in facing the difficult circumstance and decisions they have to make, and hopefully it has helped others understand the problems caregivers face. November may be the month to focus on caregivers, but they deserve our respect and support every other month too.
It is important to remember that becoming a caregiver can happen at any time, but often it may happen as you are nearing retirement. Even older adults who feel financially prepared for their own retirement may suddenly find themselves unprepared to manage the costs of caregiving.
But it is equally important to remember that you are not alone. 66 million people in the U.S. provide unpaid care to a relative or friend. There are many resources available to make your task easier. WISER’s booklet, Financial Steps for Caregivers: What You Need to Know About Protecting Your Money and Retirement is a great place to start. Read it yourself, and share it with other caregivers you know!