By Judy Morton
In the early hours of this year, we lost our dear friend Keith. His battle against flu, pneumonia, a respiratory infection, and overwhelming exhaustion ended after a week and a half, during which he spent his final five days on a ventilator. His passing left a void in our support group, among his friends, and especially in the heart of his mother, who lost her son.
Keith's devotion to his mother led him to neglect his own health, ultimately sacrificing his life for her care. The pain of a parent outliving their child is unimaginable, and when compounded by the burden of guilt due to caregiving, the grief becomes even more profound. I can't fathom the anguish that any parent enduring this must feel.
Keith's unwavering determination to personally care for his mother, avoiding a care facility, unfortunately, ended in failure due to various reasons. The saddest aspect is that this failure now shapes his mother's future. The responsibility of arranging and making decisions for her care falls on others, relinquishing her autonomy and choices.
Thanks to the compassion of Keith's friends, his mother remains in her home with the assistance of a dedicated caregiver. Despite their efforts, they wish Keith had accepted their help sooner. The fate of Keith's pets, whom he loved dearly, also suffered. One dog was re-homed, and the cat had to be euthanized.
Regrettably, Keith isn't the sole casualty. Brenda, another caregiver and caring soul, succumbed to a stroke brought on by caregiving stress. Her husband's demanding care overwhelmed her, yet she couldn't envision alternatives or seek the help she desperately needed. Her recovery will be a lengthy process, with her children now assuming responsibility for her husband's and her own care.
Before Keith and Brenda, there was Karen. Her daily posts in our support group radiated warmth and genuine care for others. Yet, the strain of caring for both her Alzheimer's-afflicted father and narcissistic, needy mother took a toll. Despite recognizing the need to prioritize herself and establish a life beyond caregiving, she reached this realization too late. Tragically, Karen passed away suddenly just days after deciding to reclaim her life.
And then there's Star, whose life was marred by a selfish and manipulative mother. Star's sacrifices for her mother's incessant demands cost her dearly. Only when her mother's behavior led to legal intervention did Star finally experience freedom. Yet, her liberation was short-lived, as lung cancer swiftly claimed her life. Her sons and friends mourned her deeply.
As contributors to this page, the personal impact is profound when caregivers shift from providers to patients. We continuously stress the importance of self-care, echoing Diane Carbo's words: "The Caregiver is the most important part of the equation: without the caregiver, it all falls apart."
Nevertheless, we continue to lose cherished friends and witness members of our support group hospitalized due to self-neglect. Caregivers striving to shoulder every burden alone succumb to overwhelming stress and burnout.
What will it take for caregivers to prioritize themselves? How can we convey the urgency of self-care? How many caregivers must suffer before we all comprehend that this journey cannot be traversed alone?
May we all recognize that self-care is not selfish, but a necessity. The well-being of caregivers is intertwined with the well-being of those they care for. Let us honor the memory of those who have fallen by advocating for the caregivers who remain.
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