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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 for her.

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.

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