November 16, 2018

My Experience as a Caregiver

When I was in high school, I helped take care of my Dzia-Dzia (grandpa in Polish). His health had deteriorated over the years and he had been in and out of the hospital. It came to a point where he needed 24/7 help and Busia (my grandma) couldn't do it by herself. My brother and I mostly helped and my mom and sister did a little bit too.

My brother and I would stay at their house for about 3 days at a time and help out 24/7. Dzia-Dzia would sleep in the recliner chair because that was the most comfortable for him and I would sleep on the couch right next to him. I still remember that we would go to bed at 10:30 and he would tell me he loves me every night and I of course would say it back. It was a special yet difficult time in my life.

He needed help walking and often got up in the night to use the bathroom due to taking diuretics and we would get up a few times a night to help him. He was a smoker but had recently mostly stopped but he would forget that and try to sneak outside by himself which often lead to falls. Being a caretaker definitely is not for everyone and emotionally, it weighed on me for many years after he passed away.

We would help Busia prepare meals, give him medication and more. I had recently gotten my learner's permit and Busia was more comfortable with me driving to different errands than her driving so at age 15, I would drive both of my grandparents around. Thinking back, that's kind of crazy!

I have some really fond memories of being a caretaker as well. Dzia-Dzia loved peaches and strawberries towards the end of his life and was obsessed with stocking up on them! I remember, at one time, he was trying to get us to go to the store to buy more peaches and they had 35 of them. I remember counting them to show him how many they had but he wanted more. He didn't have dementia or anything and that was kind of his personality his whole life- to stock up on a bunch of food. We would sit at the kitchen table together and enjoy bowls of sliced peaches.

Dzia-Dzia passed away a couple of weeks after we started back to school that year after taking care of him all summer. His death affected my life so much as it was the first major death my siblings and I had gone through. I cried every day for years about the loss of my grandpa.

Overall, I am very happy that I was a caretaker for my grandpa. Would I let my kids do what I did at age 15? No, I honestly wouldn't. Emotionally, it was too much. But I am very happy to have gone through this experience myself as I have memories that will last a lifetime and it really helped prepare me for my career working in long-term care and to understand what the elderly go through.

I learned that 24% of the 40 million family caretakers in the US are Millenials (born 1980-1996). Many of these people are holding full time jobs while taking care of their family member that need them. The reason that I wanted to touch on this topic is because November is Family Caregiver's Month. I know that taking care of a loved one is very difficult and if this is something that you're going through, I want you to know that I understand and think that you're amazing for doing what you do.

AARP has a great Family Caregiver Action Kit with lots of resources and information to help during your journey as a caregiver.

This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own.

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