When Caregivers Reverse Roles

This year marked five years since the passing of my grandmother. Of all my grandparents, I was especially close to Granny, who lived across the holler, as we say in the South, from our house. Her home was my refuge during hot Tennessee summers before my parents had air conditioning, an escape from a new baby brother, a place to bake cookies and play dress-up with costume jewelry and silk scarves. She was my baby-sitter, my reading teacher, my cooking instructor. She was my chauffeur, taking me shopping for a new school wardrobe, to my best friend’s house or to the sunrise service at church on Easter. I can’t imagine growing up without having Granny just down the road.

But as I grew up, the roles reversed. I became her chauffeur, taking her to church, the grocery store and  doctor appointments 60 miles away. I was her computer teacher, compiling her medical records and showing her how to read emails. I helped her following surgery. I made sure she didn’t leave the stove on in the kitchen, moved furniture so she wouldn’t trip, tried to keep her memory active with games of gin rummy and other card games.

Of course, what I did was nothing in comparison to my mother’s responsibilities. My mom, her daughter-in-law, became her caregiver, despite having a teenager, a first-grader and a full-time job as a special ed teacher. The year I went to college, Granny was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, on top of pre-existing lung and heart diseases, which increased the amount of care she needed. My mom was there for her morning and evening, day and night, taking her to the doctor, making sure she was taking the right pills, bringing her meals, feeding her dogs. She sacrificed her summer vacations to make sure my grandmother had someone watching over her. 
In addition to spending around seven years as a primary caregiver, as Granny’s health went downhill, my mom lost sleep at night worrying about my grandma. Eventually, she hired Tammy, a part-time home health-care nurse, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have that option. And that’s why I became part of the Tennessee Respite Coalition.
As time passes, those who cared for us as children and young adults begin to need care of their own. Family members often end up spending years of their lives as caregivers – on top of their regular jobs and other family responsibilities, and completely giving up spending time on themselves. Many more caregiving situations involve parents caring for children or a number of other situations of loved ones needing full-time care. Providing these caregivers with respite is one of the greatest gifts they could receive. It’s something that doesn’t cross most of our minds, but it’s simple as a few hours away without worry, knowing that the person they care for is in good hands.
What’s more, in addition to helping these full-time caregivers, I know that by supporting the TRC, I’m doing something that would make my grandmother proud.
– Jessy Yancey, TRC Board Member

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