Perfect Gift for Caregivers

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.

Perfect Gift for Caregivers

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?

The Lost Childhood of Caregivers

The lost childhood of caregivers goes unnoticed. If your aging parents retain their memory, you can hash over recollections of past Easters and Thanksgivings. But when parents get dementia, you lose the chance to share remembrances of youth.

Lost Childhood of Caregivers

Today, Easter gave me the opportunity to spend time with kids of all ages. We went to two different Easter celebrations and I got to see the holiday through the eyes of a 14-year old, an 11-year old, a 7-year old and a 5-year old. The teenager was pretty obsessed with her iPhone but she also enjoyed talking about her extra-curricular activities at school. The younger boy showed us the toys he got, fully aware that the Easter bunny played no part in supplying them. But he managed to keep that secret from his littlest cousin. She was totally absorbed with racing around in her sparkly shoes. The kids weren’t playing a game, they were just having fun running up and down the yard.

While I visited other family and friends today, my mom was being cared for by someone else. Since I wasn’t preoccupied with her welfare, I was actually able to take a minute to remember the days when I would run with my cousins on family holidays. We raced each other up hills that seemed enormous, then rolled back down them end to end. That race probably occurred 40 times on holiday afternoons like today’s warm Easter. We kept going until all the special dishes were served. Then we wolfed them down, imprinting our brains with the texture and flavor of foods we’d crave for the rest of our lives.

Do you know how to make your mother’s potato salad or peanut butter eggs? Can you remember your dad’s advice about how to shoot free throws or fix a flat tire? Those matters seem small when we’re overwhelmed, but they’re actually precious and we can’t afford to lose track of them.

Serving as a caregiver immerses us in the routine of meeting our parents most basic needs. In that process it’s easy to lose the pieces of ourself that form the core of our identity. I must act like a parent much of the time, making sure Mom eats right, stays clean, and gets proper medical care. I calibrate my emotions so she always feels supported. I accept the burden of stress so that she might function with difficulties minimized. But I rarely have a minute to recall the sweeter elements of youth and I believe that this is a loss many of us suffer. Although we don’t want to live in the past, we still need to remember who we are and how we got here. Holidays, like today, are especially important for cherishing memories at the root of family love.