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WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS. — So you find yourself facing a choice: admit your elderly parent to a nursing home or take care of them at home.

I found myself with this dilemma four years ago. At the time, I had no choice but to admit my mother to a nursing home. I was in no position to provide the 24/7 care she needed. I still remember crying as I sat at her bedside on her first night at the facility.

It was the most difficult decision I ever had to make, not that I really had any other choice. For 11 months, my mother resided in that skilled nursing facility. I visited her almost every day. I was there so often that other people who were visiting their own family thought I worked there as I often would visit my mom between assignments and be wearing my press credentials around my neck. Not unlike the staff and their name placards, I must have looked official.

I got to see the inner workings of a skilled nursing facility from the exhausted staff, who were underpaid and overworked, to the neglect that inevitably occurs under such conditions. I could not let my mother live her final chapter in such an environment if there was another way.

While I fought tooth and nail to get the government resources that are available to keep my mother in her home in the twilight of her life, it is still a formidable challenge.

Unless you have an incredible family support system, you will probably end up doing it alone. It’s amazing how every child loves their parent, but when it comes to helping out, they are usually fine with leaving the task to another sibling or family member.

If you have a job or career, you will either have to abandon it, not unlike many mothers or even fathers who are responsible for caring for their children, or bust your butt trying to prove that you are still relevant and can still do your job as you are tugged in a million different directions.

Many parents today are now facing this exact situation due to the pandemic.

Parents who care for children have the joys and sorrows or child rearing responsibilities and ultimately they can see the fruits of their labor when they, hopefully, raise an healthy, well-adjusted adult who contributes to society and the world.

For a child taking care of an elderly parent, all they gain from the experience is incredible challenges, loss and ultimately death.

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If you are an independent, free-spirited person, you must abandon that, at least temporarily, while you care for your loved one.

Others will be there to help you in your journey, but caregivers have their own lives, too, and their problems and challenges will become entangled in yours. If they have their own children, they will come first, just as your loved one comes first. Their work will be their secondary priority and so it will be for you as well. If all you’ve ever done is work and are dedicated to that, your priorities will change as your parent or loved one becomes your number one consideration.

Very few people seem to take on the challenge of taking care of a infirm parent. Most of the people in my caregiver support group were not doing the hands-on care that I am. Another friend of mine in the same position of taking care of her elderly dad has the same experience with her support group. It is not a task many want to take on.

You will sacrifice and lose time in our own life, that you can never get back.

As I was trying to get my mom’s affairs in order four years ago, I consulted an elder attorney who was helping me pro bono on the stipulation that when it came time for my mom to sell her home that he would be the attorney for the job.

When I suggested taking care of my mom at home, he said such a venture would “make me crazy.” Essentially it was not something I would want to even consider.

Four years later, I still hear those words echoing in my head. He was not wrong. It seemed callous and insensitive at the time, but he was absolutely right. He spoke the truth. Taking on the responsibility of caring for my elderly mother is beyond taxing. It takes a toll on me physically and mentally, and is well frankly, making me a bit nuts.

I guess I must be a bit crazy to think that I can continue to do this. Every day, I am faced with new obstacles and challenges as I navigate this challenging path that I have chosen. I struggle every single day and I wonder if I will be able to make it to the end.

The only thing that everyone tells me is that at the end, I will not regret it. Hopefully, I can survive this and some day be able to say the same thing.

Gillian Jones, an digital visual journalist with the Banner and the Berkshire Eagle, is writing a monthly op-ed series on caregiving. Her email is gjones@berkshireeagle.com.


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