My Best Friend
by Phyllis Shelton
I was three when my grandparents moved in with us. My grandmother died
unexpectedly two years later after gall bladder surgery. My grandfather
was so sad. I still remember him crying after the funeral.
Born in 1886, my grandfather was blind, a diabetic who had to have a
shot every day, and most importantly, my best friend. He listened with
endless patience while I laboriously read the adventures of Nancy Drew,
Cherry Ames, the Dana Girls, and Trixie Belden, none of which I ever finished.
I think he also heard excerpts from Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe, my
favorite animal books. Sometimes he returned the favor by telling me stories
about his logging days in the East Tennessee mountains.
My mother was a nurse, worked nights while my father could be with us,
and cared for my best friend almost ten years in our home, with my help
of course. I didn't give him his daily insulin shot or plan his special
diet or bathe him or dress him. But I gave him hours upon hours of my
time, partially because I took the caregiving responsibility my mother
assigned to me very seriously, but mostly because of how much I loved
him. We had to be quiet while she slept, so I read him story upon
story and fetched many glasses of water and led him to the bathroom when
he asked me to. Sometimes I just crawled up on his lap to let him make
whatever problem I encountered during the day go away. As I grew older,
his room was my first stop when I got home from school.
My best friend went to a nursing home when I was 12. He never asked for
help, but I knew my mother was struggling between giving him her best
(he was incontinent by then) and caring for me and my three-year-old brother.
She was also working double shifts at the hospital for extra money. We
moved him to another nursing home once because she didn't think he was
getting the best possible care. When he passed away two years later,
I was devastated. My best friend was gone.
Twenty years later, my mother lost a two-year battle with cancer at age
54. I thought about my best friend and finally realized that what
was a normal lifestyle for me as a child must have been a tremendous sacrifice
An extensive survey released in 1997 by the National Alliance for Caregiving
and AARP reports that three-fourths of caregivers are women and two-thirds
of these women work outside the home. The average amount of time that
caregivers spend caring for someone who needs help with 2 or more Activities
of Daily Living (bathing, dressing, transferring, eating, etc.)
is 56.5 hours per week. Sixty-four percent of these most intense
caregivers had to make changes at work to accommodate caregiving. Thirty
percent had to give up work entirely, 15% took early retirement and 26%
had to take a leave of absence.
Referred to as the "soft glass ceiling", caregiving may turn
out to be the biggest threat to the women's movement in this century.
Even today, prominent gerontologists like Ken Dychtwald, author
of AgePower (Penguin Putnam, Inc. Publishers, 1999), say the American
female is projected to spend more years taking care of aging family members
than raising her own children.
How do you function in an executive position or grow your own business
with those kind of hours? I wouldn't own my own business today with 16
employees if my employer at the height of my mother's illness had not
allowed me to work part-time for three months, instead of stopping my
career to help care for her.
Families, and particularly women, can't do it alone. They have to have
help, and long-term care insurance may be the main key to the help they
need. LTC insurance provides financial assistance, which in turn reduces
stress levels tremendously not only by allowing the caregiver to
keep her job, but even more importantly, by giving the caregiver peace
of mind to know that the parent can receive high quality care while
she is at work. In fact, future long-term care insurance policies may
earn the name "Lifestyle Insurance", because the policy may
be the only thing that allows an adult child to continue a career or even
keep a marriage from falling apart from the strain of a caregiving need
of a very long duration.
©2000 Shelton Marketing Services, Inc.