While I was away on vacation, my son forwarded my mail to me in a weekly package which arrived the same day each week. During that day, and even the day before, I would be stressed just knowing that problems would be arriving that I would have to solve. Each week’s mail brought bills and statements for me and for dad. Usually dad’s statements included some problems to be solved and sometimes mine did also.
The most stressful statements were the ones from Medicare, Blue Cross, Medco and sometimes physicians. I don’t mind paying for actual charges owed. But each week the statements included errors that had to be fixed first. Mostly these were billing errors that had a wrong code or insurance number. Some were insurance errors in crediting previous payments towards dad’s deductable or “out of pocket”.
My friend and neighbor watched me each week and asked why I do that at all? I am not legally obligated to care for my father. My brother doesn’t do anything and my sister doesn’t do anything. Why don’t I just say I am not going to do it and let some social worker pick up the work involved?
I was incredulous. How could I “not do it”? I am the responsible one. I am the one who cares for my parents. I cared for mom until the day she died and then took care of the obituary, the burial, etc. I have always expected to care for mom and dad. And, in fact, on her death-bed mom asked me to “take care of daddy”. How could I not?
When I told dad mom had passed away, I promised to take care of him. When mom was alive I had power of attorney for both of them and helped mom pay the bills and plan how to get to the doctor even when I was thousands of miles away.
I have to say that this is part of my image of who I am. I am the one who cares for mom and dad. I am the responsible sister. I wonder about my siblings. Do they just think they are the ones who have no responsibility? One is older and one is younger but neither has been much help. Brother did forward some mail, like the tax bills. But he still lives in dad’s house and doesn’t help pay the taxes or insurance. And no, he doesn’t pay any rent. I’m sure I’ll talk more about that later.
Sister lived thousands of miles away. Recently she moved to less than a hundred miles away but still has no car. She visited dad twice. Once she visited on his birthday with me and other family members. The other time she visited was when I was on vacation and she came to visit him with a friend who had a car. She said they stayed 30 minutes as dad wanted to take his nap. So, in the past 6 months, she visited him twice.
Brother didn’t go south when mom was in the hospital and didn’t see mom or dad for two years until dad moved near me. Then he visited twice in 2011 for several days each time. He brought dad snacks and spent time talking to him. He has not visited yet in 2012 though he continues to live in dad’s house which is hundreds of miles away from here.
Each time now when I get upset with a bill or statement, I ask myself. Why am I doing this? Who could I get to take over even some of the work, the stress, the worry? I know there is no one willing to do that. They may visit but that is the extent of their effort. Brother will state unequivocally that he is just too busy. He has “no choice”. Sister will thank me for caring for dad. For emotional and financial reasons, she is unable or unwilling to do more.
There is no social worker to take over these tasks. If there were, the blogosphere would not be filled with blogs about caring for a parent, a spouse, or a sibling with dementia or other chronic diseases. If I didn’t take care of dad, who would?
I watch over dad’s finances. I am the trustee on the trust set up over ten years ago for mom and dad. I pay all his bills and track his finances. I don’t think I would want anyone else to do that. Brother and sister are both unable to maintain their own finances without excessive spending and debt. Dad hasn’t handled the finances in his entire adult life. Mom always did that.
So here we are. I may be stressed. I may be frustrated. I am ready to scream at the insurance companies and others. But I will continue to do what I am doing. I do it because I love my father. I do it as one way to care for him and to be with him. I visit him not out of obligation but because I want to be there. I want to see him. I want to share his last years with him. I want him to know that someone cares and he will never be alone. I do it because this is what I do.
So, I ask you who are caregivers. Why do you do it? Could you just hang it up and walk out and say someone else has to do it now? If you could, would you?