Welcome to Caregiver Friday!
Years ago the phone company had a campaign that said “Reach out and touch someone”. The goal was to get people to connect with one another. That idea takes on new meaning when we speak about caregiving, in particular, Long Distance Caregiving. Let’s face it, the phone only goes so far and it’s not like being there.
While at the COPD conference last week I had the chance to speak with a woman who was sitting in the foyer waiting for her mother. She was from Texas and had planned the trip when her parents told her they were going to the conference during her stay. She decided to come along and although she popped in and out throughout the day (the family sat at my table), she did stay for the portions of the program specifically relevant to her as a caregiver.
I asked her what it was like living so far since her mother’s diagnosis 2 years ago. She took a deep sigh and simply said, “It’s okay”. I felt a sense of resignation in her voice. She explained that her mother is very independent, even while being on oxygen 24/7. She is one of four daughters and all the children live far from their parents. They all take turns coming to visit so there are frequent opportunities for a more objective assessment from one of the siblings.
She has a couple of fears. She’s afraid something bad will happen to her mother and she won’t be here to help. She feel a certain amount of guilt for not being closer. She feels helpless because the distance only allows her to support her mother by phone, e-mail, snail mail and the occassional visit. She’s raising her own children and is caught in the “sandwich generation” phenomenon.
I know that many of you reading this face the same challenges. I feel it’s important that these frustrations, worries, and concerns get put out on the table. What plans are in place as a family if there is an emergency? Who is the durable power of attorney for healthcare? Who would be able to get to the family member first? What support does the father (the primary caretaker) require? The family meeting is important because it takes the “what if” out of the equation. When I consult with long distance families by conference call, or in person if there has already been an emergency and everyone has come to the side of the patient, ironing out these issues alleviates a lot of stress. It releases each person from the “what if” stage which usually keeps your mind running on the proverbial hamster wheel. Clarity is reassuring, calming and empowering.
Long distance caregiving is difficult. As technology increases the way we communicate with our loved ones will get better. As we move to video phones and webcams you’ll begin to see how actually seeing the person alleviates a lot of fears. You don’t have to rely on their voice when you can see them on your computer in real time. Services like SKYPE also help keep families together and everyone in the loop. Use everything and anything that will enhance your feelings of connectedness while also taking care of what you feel are your responsibilities as a long distance caregiver.
I’ll speak more about this over the next couple of months, especially as we move into the holiday season. How do you handle long distance caregiving? What have you found to be helpful in keeping connected while far apart? Is there one thing you want to pass along to other long distance caregivers?