Friendships, a Casualty of Caregiving
Friendships are Sacrificed for Caregiving
Yesterday, August 6th was International Friendship Day. It’s a holiday invented by a Hallmark for obvious reasons. I’m not knocking Hallmark, they make my favorite movies. The day may be a gimmick but friendships are real. Sadly, friendships are often a casualty of caregiving.
When an elderly parent lives with you, you are on-call 24 hours a day with no vacations and no sick days. I have paid caregivers six hours a day, six days a week. I have 132 hours a week as my responsibility. I still bear the responsibility for decisions, medications and emergencies even when help is here. It feels like a physical weight. Often, I sleep when the caregivers are here if I’ve been up during the night.
Many caregivers do it all on their own, without helpers or paid caregivers . We love our parents or spouse, but the care is taxing. draining and leaves little time for outside activities or friends. The caregiver needs emotional sustenance. Where does she (or he) turn for it?
Dinner with friends is out, I’m on duty in the evenings. Most social activities take place in the evening. If an event is held when I have a helper, I’m limited by distance and the caregiver’s schedule–they leave at 3 PM. I plan doctor’s appointments, haircuts or errands like grocery shopping at times the paid caregivers are here. There are no overnight or weekend trips. For those adult children or spouses doing it all alone, they don’t even have the limited respite I have.
In the past I’ve had work friends, church friends, neighborhood friends, friends met through my kids, friends met doing volunteer work and even friends of friends. I’m cut-off from those contacts now.
A few friends and I make arrangements to meet a couple of times a year. We meet for lunch. It involves complicated logistics Mom and Dad can only get in and out of one of our cars. When our caregiver takes Mom or Dad to an appointment, I need the other car. Today, I had a dental appointment, Mom had a medical appointment. Her caregiver drove her and fortunately, the other car was available. When my husband is working or both of us have appointments we’re in trouble. We put all appointments on a big calendar near the house phone so we don’t overlap.
This is a season of my life. It won’t last forever but when it extends into years, the lives of your friends move on. Friendships, like all relationships, need nourishing to thrive. Social media makes it possible to stay in touch with people in ways previously impossible and I’m grateful. It’s not a substitute for face to face friendships, though. An emoji is not the same as seeing the smile of your friend and virtual hugs are no substitute for a friend’s real embrace. There are caregiver online groups for support. Though I’m not involved in one, for the caregiver on their own it could be a lifeline.
It’s a sacrifice I am willing to make but it does make caregiving a lonely place sometimes. If you’re a caregiver, how do you cope with this problem?