For caregivers on Mother’s Day: Is role reversal is part of your life? My relationship with my mom has flipped around many times. Last year on Mother’s Day, I felt like we were on the Titanic ready to capsize. Mom was weak, then strong, then frail again. But she’s lived to see another Mother’s Day. Wow!
The two of us have taken a beating as her dementia has progressed. If I didn’t remind Mom about her daughters, she might not know that she had any. One of my shoulders has been dislocated several times and my back feels like it belongs to an old lady. (Maybe I’ve become one!) Mom can’t talk or walk and she can barely stand up even with two people supporting her. But she ate the Mother’s Day brunch I cooked for her and still savored the taste of her favorite foods. Despite her lack of language she managed to express her pleasure through laughter and the smile that never quits.
I’m so happy that we had the chance to do this again. Some days are so hard for her. She gets weird electric shocks that frighten her and scare me, too. When it’s rainy, she seems to sleep through everything but meal time. On many occasions, I could have sworn that we were sharing our last dinner together. Then she somehow finds the strength to revive and I think, “All right, the seas are calm. This voyage will continue.”
It is probably easier to pick a Kentucky Derby winner than it is to predict the course of dementia. We’ve been given time estimates, symptom warnings and lots of family education to help us get through this long process. The only thing that really stays consistent is the deep love we feel for my mom. I used to think that love was mysterious and fragile. But as we celebrate one more miraculous Mother’s Day, I see that love is tough and durable. It is more reliable than a diagnosis and more potent than medicine. It’s a bewildering experience to serve as the caregiver for a parent. When it feels too confusing, love is the only true compass.
The perfect gift for caregivers is: a) a massage, b) dinner out, or c) night at the movies? They’re excellent choices, but last week I got something better than all three combined. Have you ever considered taking Family Medical Leave to give a caregiver a break? I’m so grateful that my sister did that for me.
If you work in a business that has 50 or more employees within a 75 mile area you may be eligible to take time off to help with family caregiving. In some cases, the employee on leave is allowed to use paid sick days or vacation time so they can collect salary during the leave. Obviously, retaining your regular salary makes it a lot easier to take leave and help a family member. You may have to go through an approval process to ensure that happens.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was approved in 1993 and the legislation explains conditions required for eligibility. For example, an employee “must have been at the business at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and worked at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.”
Many people still think of FMLA as a provision for women on maternity leave or fathers helping with care of a newborn. But leave can be approved for other reasons, too. The U.S. Department of Labor provides a list of situations covered by family leave:
- The birth of a son or daughter or placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care;
- To care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition;
- For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; or
- For any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status.
In my family’s case, we had to provide my sister’s employer with medical verification of my mother’s serious health condition (dementia). This documentation was obtained from a doctor who’s treated my mom for many years. Once the paperwork was completed, we worked out the dates for her leave.
A few days respite from #caregiving was the perfect gift for me. I had time to visit friends and take care of neglected business matters. One afternoon I even had the luxury of visiting Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation with a friend from college. During those few hours, I felt like I was back at school again, seeing new things with a curious, well-rested mind.
People who haven’t been a #caregiver may not realize how this responsibility shapes, absorbs, and sometimes overwhelms our thinking. Even a short break helps us rediscover our interests and regain a sense of balance. Mother’s Day is almost here. Could you provide this kind of gift to someone in your family? Is there anyone you can ask to do it for you?