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I was destined to be a caregiver—I think. From a young age, somewhere deep down I always knew my mother could not fill those shoes. You see — she was an alcoholic and alcohol was her highest priority. You don’t know how much I wished that wasn’t the case but that was my life.
When I was 25 years old she overdosed due to complications from liver cirrhosis. I still can’t believe it’s almost been 10 years. She’s missed so much — before — and after her death.
Like myself, she was an only child just like my grandfather. We had a very small circle, to begin with — and now its minuscule. After my grandmother and mother passed away — my grandfather only had me and the family I created. That’s it.
Making the Leap into Caregiving
Almost 5 years ago, we made the decision to move to Texas from Kentucky to be there for my grandfather. He was the only grandfather I’ve ever known and he has excelled at the role. I couldn’t have asked for a better one — he’s always been the absolute best!
I always kind of resented my mother for how she treated him. She put him through hell and he always had her back. She was his little girl and he would have done anything for her — and he did. I’m not sure if she realized the pain she caused him but I did.
So when talks of a nursing home came around, we stepped up. Grandpa has now been living with us for over 4 years. He just turned 92 years old this past April.
“Over 40 million Americans are taking care of a loved one 50 or older. And of these 40 million family caregivers, about 1 in 4 is part of the Millennial generation.”
That’s me and I wouldn’t trade this time with my grandfather for anything.
Caregiving is a Learning Experience
This experience has taught me to empathize more with other people. No one can be in your exact shoes. You never really know what someone else is going through. All you can do is try to understand — be there for them — in good and bad times.
I’ve been blessed with having a generally healthy grandfather — not saying that he’s had it easy by any stretch.
He’s had kidney cancer. A stroke. A quadruple bypass. A few organs removed — and many other health issues. Yet, in the end, he always pulls through—thankfully.
Most of this medical resume was done back when I was a kid. During our time living together, we’ve dealt with AFib, a pacemaker, liver failure, bowel blockages, blood pressure issues, skin cancer, and sodium imbalances.
So, to be honest, this experience has taught me so much.
I’ve learned a lot of medical terms, the uses for different medications, and the ins and outs of different procedures. It’s kinda funny when medical professionals think you’re in the medical field after they initially disregarded you like some kid.
I show them.
I know more than my grandfather does. I’ve become his memory.
Caregiving Changes Your Life
Your whole way of living is altered when you start caregiving. If you used to run around in your underwear — that’s out. You are now in charge of a whole other person.
For me, it was like adding another child. I go through everything I have to do for my kids and grandpa gets a lot of the same treatment. I’m sure he hates this deep down.
I’m just lucky I can work at home and can schedule his needs around my own.
My time caregiving has been a bittersweet one. I’ve watched my grandfather go from a super independent man to one that needs our help.
Within 4 months of living together, he was hospitalized. He bounced back but at that time his driving ended. So I became the chauffeur.
After another stint in the hospital (and a rehab), his short-term memory drastically decreased. So I took over control of all his medications — there’s over 10 of them.
He looks for me to fill out all those forever long medical forms. I do whatever he needs.
Caregiving is Possible with Help
My life now is dictated by doctor appointments, home nurses, and physical & occupational therapists. I juggle all of this while practically working fulltime and dealing with a family of my own. It’s hard but what’s even harder is watching my grandfather turn into someone else.
I get a front row seat at watching my grandfather decline. He no longer is the man I once knew.
He was the kind of person that wouldn’t dare walk around the house in anything less than a button-down collared shirt and khakis. These days he lives in pajamas. It’s so sad to see him as a lesser version of himself.
I swear he wouldn’t eat if I didn’t put food in front of him. He has no real desire to do the little things — making food or washing clothes. If you knew my grandpa — you’d know this isn’t him. He was always the one to do everything for everyone else. My grandmother was spoiled rotten.
But guess what? It’s now his turn to be spoiled. If anyone deserves it it’s him.
AARP Family Caregiver Action Kit
Some days caregiving can be hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. With support (like my husband) and resources like the Family Caregiver Action Kit, caregiving is totally doable. I think you will find it’s one of the best things you can do for your family. It makes my heart happy.
Becoming a caregiver means a lot of added responsibilities, though. Ones you might not know anything about. The AARP Family Caregiver Action Kit will help guide you through this change and provide you with valuable resources and strategies.
Worried about working and juggling a loved one? What about money issues? Answers to these questions and many others are provided on the website.
I am still learning something new every day. My grandfather has taught me so much — I’m forever grateful to call him grandpa. I’m so happy he’s been able to share his life with us — and be forever in my boys’ memories.
Krystle Cook – the creator of Home Jobs by MOM – put her psychology degree on a shelf and dived into a pile of diapers and dishes instead. She is a wife and mother to two rambunctious boys, sweating it out in her Texas hometown. She loves cooking, DIY home projects, and family fun activities.