Christmas for Caregivers
It was mid-November, a time of year I usually love. The Thanksgiving holiday, which falls just before my birthday, always brings me a sense of contentment. My sister comes to visit and my Mom (who can barely speak) is overjoyed when she’s got both daughters within arm’s reach. She smiles when we’re all together and always finds the strength to say, “The two! The two!’
But even the thought of autumn togetherness could not lift my mood. I felt worn and ancient. On a physical level, my body seemed beyond repair. After two years of lifting my mother five times a day, my spine was angry and resentful. Five times may not sound like much, especially since she’s only 92 pounds. But without time to restore myself, each lift was like hauling bricks. In two years, my only real vacation had been a three day summer break.
My back was aching more than usual because I had been working on a series of writing assignments that were all due the same day. My bosses needed me to produce three 70-page beauties for a deadline after Thanksgiving — on my birthday! Writing at my computer for hours on end left me stiff as a rusty gate. When I stood up to take a break, I walked like a tired granny.
The Search for Respite
Most #caregivers know about this kind of pain. It comes from being on call physically and emotionally 24 hours a day. We seldom get the deep rest needed to heal. But I had reached the point where I was determined to get that rest. I knew if I didn’t get some kind of caregiver respite I would injure something besides my sense of humor — which already felt badly sprained.
My search for help led first to a cozy personal care home that rejected my mother because she was too frail. A second facility made the same decision. Mom’s condition was too fragile and no one wanted the liability of caring for her. Tears rolled down my face as I thought about her weakness and my own. The steering wheel was wet and I couldn’t find a tissue anywhere. I felt awful but I knew we had made it through painful trials in the past, so I tried to remember how we survived before. Some of those memories gave me some strength.
[Part I of IV]
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?