My Dad used to do everything. He was the family electrician, mechanic, gardener and general handyman. He was also an avid fisherman, poker player, computer tinkerer and golfer. But for the past several years, Dad has done none of the things he used to love, because he has Alzheimer’s.
While it is Father’s Day this Sunday, Dad doesn’t really know it. But Mom does. She’s saving the Father’s Day cards I sent to open Sunday and to celebrate with him. When I called her last night, she was giving him dinner. Today she will be taking him on errands with her, as she cannot leave him alone. A few days a week, she pays a helper to watch him, so she can go to work.
At age 76, Mom works part time at a real estate office. She works to get out of the house, to stay connected to the outside world and keep her sanity, because no matter how much she loves Dad and is dedicated to him, taking care of every aspect of personal care for a grown man is an incredibly physically and emotionally draining job.
I am 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, where I moved 15 years ago. I have told Mom to let me know when it gets too hard for her to handle Dad herself. I offered to move back to Virginia to help, but Mom says she is okay for now. I don’t really believe that’s true. I hear it in her voice. She’s tired. Sometimes she sounds depressed.
It’s not just that her caregiver duties are trying; Mom has lost her best friend, her husband, her partner in life, her confidant, her co-parent, her travel buddy, her Jeopardy- and Jay-Leno-watching pal, and her day-and-night companion who shared the last 56 years with her.
So far, mom is holding up, but I know — as all our family and her friends know, Mom has an extraordinary job taking care of Dad, and her life has been extraordinarily impacted by his illness. I am very glad my mother has resources and friends and family who help her, but for many others in her position, they do not have this network.
Across the country 42 million people, primarily women, between the ages 40 – 60 are faced with the challenge of providing care to their older loved ones each and every day. New research from AARP suggests that caregiving can take a tremendous toll on a caregiver’s personal health and general wellbeing. And yet, many caregivers do not self-identify as such and can be reluctant to ask for help. A new campaign, the Ad Council’s Caregiver Assistance campaign with AARP, aarp.org/caregiving, aims to connect caregivers to resources, tools and experts.
This Father’s Day, the sponsors are raising awareness about The Thanks Project, an online platform that enables caregivers to publically recognize the parents whom they care for. Each individual ‘thanks’ will be integrated into the interactive tapestry, representing the 42 million caregivers in the US. Caregivers everywhere deserve to be recognized for the important work that they do, and Father’s Day remind us why it’s worth it.
While Father’s Day is a day to honor Dad and remember all the things he’s done for me and all he has meant to me throughout my life, I am also thankful for Mom on this day, for all the love she shows to my father, through sickness and in health — and I know he would have done the same for her.