November is Family Caregiving Month, the perfect time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country.
There are an estimated 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S. today – up almost 25% from 2015. We expect this number to continue to grow over the next decade. Seeing a loved one suffer, change, and not be the person you remember can be extremely difficult. And, while many caregivers report feeling a sense of purpose or meaning in their caregiving role, many also feel stressed. Let’s face it – caregiving is not an easy job!
Tom Coughlin, the former coach of the New York Giants, published an essay in the NYT that did a beautiful job of capturing the challenges of being a family caregiver. Tom’s wife Judy passed away recently from a rare neurological condition called supranuclear palsy. In the article, Tom says:
“I’ve learned firsthand caregiving is all-consuming. It is mentally and physically exhausting. Sometimes you just need a break. When Judy is having a good day, then my day is good. But then there are dark days — those days that are so full of frustration and anger, they have me feeling like a failure and pondering the unfairness of the disease. I’ve spent my entire life preparing for some of the biggest games a person could play, but nothing can prepare you to be a caregiver who has to watch a loved one slip away.”
It is important to note that the Coughlin’s also have the means to hire private caregivers and they had 24 hr around the clock care for Judy, but Tom was still there as a caregiver for his wife. There are a lot of families that cannot afford this level of care and everything falls on them. It reminds me of a time when I held the door for an older gentleman as he was leaving a local county office on aging. As I held the door for him, he looked tired and beat down. I sincerely asked him how he was doing and he went on to say that he was not doing well and he was caring for his ill wife 24 hours per day/7 days per week. Through various county programs he was able to secure approximately 2 hours per day of care during the week from an outside agency. He went on to say that he was a Marine veteran that fought in Iwo Jima and even that hardship did not prepare him ‘for this’.
I think Tom Coughlin sums it up wonderfully when he goes on to say:
“And to all those who are caring for a loved one, take a break when you need it and don’t be too hard on yourselves. It’s not easy. And for all those wondering how they can help, it’s simple: Don’t forget about the caregivers”
Tom offers great actionable advice here:
- Take a break when you need it.
- Do not be too hard on yourself – caregiving is not easy!
- Everyone is always asking how to help/what they can do – remember the caregivers and take care of them.
Thank you to all of the caregivers out there working hard to care for their loved ones – your efforts do not go unnoticed. Keep up the good work and remember, you are not alone! In the words of Mother Teresa “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones….the ones at home.”