November is National Family Caregivers Month, which couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time in my life. You see, we just lost our dear friend, Andy, to pancreatic cancer, and I was truly amazed by the number of people who stepped up to make sure he wasn’t alone as he battled through the stages of this disease.
Andy spent the last few weeks of his life at a beautiful hospice facility where round-the-clock professional caregivers made sure he was as physically comfortable as he could be. But his personal group of caregivers were also there, taking turns holding his hand, signing the large notepad hanging on the wall to remind him who had visited, reliving life’s memories, and sleeping on the couch in his room to make certain he was emotionally at ease as well.
Andy was pretty famous for saying that family wasn’t just about blood. If he said it once, he said it a million times over his brief time on earth. Though our paths only crossed about 18 years ago, he referred to me as his sister, and our boys called him Uncle Andy. While his immediate and extended family were among his caregivers, other people also stepped up and offered their support—a steady stream of friends from grade school and high school, people he worked with, and, more than likely, a handful of people he struck up conversations with at the grocery store. They were all proof of the non-blood family Andy created over the years.
Choosing to be caregiver in someone’s life is a selfless act. We’re all “busy” with our own daily lives, and caring for a loved one doesn’t mean our other responsibilities go on the backburner. It’s in addition to all those other things.
If you’ve taken on the role of caregiver, I encourage you to read about the 10 facts caregivers should know at the website A Place for Mom. Here are a few of them:
Take care of yourself first. If you aren’t feeling healthy, it’s difficult to care for someone else.
It’s okay to take a break, even if just for a few hours. Services such as respite care can help.
Know that you aren’t alone. The National Alliance for Caregiving reports more than 65 million Americans care for their aging or disabled loved ones on a yearly basis. Find a support group in your area if you need someone to talk to.
You’re doing valuable work. The worth of unpaid caregiving services that 65 million Americans provide for their loved ones is estimated at $375 billion.
Let’s celebrate the people who run to the side of their loved ones without hesitation. Whether it’s nursing them back to health at the most vulnerable time in their lives or allowing them to pass on with dignity, knowing they are not alone, I am forever grateful to each and every one of you. May you receive the same loving care when you need it most.