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Caregiver's Diary Part 3: The Role Reversals

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Among the most difficult things to get used to in becoming a caregiver to a loved one, especially if it's a parent, are the role reversals that happen.

For your entire life, including once you are out on your own and handling your business in part the way you were shown to by your parents, they are typically the ones who play the morally authoritative role, the ones who help steer you in the right direction when you veer off course, the ones who advise you when you get in over your head in certain school/work/life situations.

They are, generally speaking, the guiding forces in our lives, the ones we go to when we need that unconditional shoulder to lean on.

But when you become a caregiver to a parent, the roles get reversed. This isn't to say they aren't still your guiding force and shining light, but there's just a different and sometimes awkward dynamic involved.

The situations, of course, vary from person to person. For some, the caregiving of a loved one involves visits a few times a week or month to spend time with them, to drop off groceries, to take them to doctor appointments, to make sure they are taking their meds, and the like. 

For others, caregiving for a family member is a full-time responsibility

In my case, I've been back at home full time with my mom since a couple of months before we lost my dad. Before that, I was sort of an "on-call" caregiver for both of them going back several years, available whenever they needed me and visiting twice a month for several days at a time to share in the responsibilities.

For as long as I can remember, especially after my dad was told he would have to go on dialysis, Mom was the person who kept up with everything, every appointment, every card in the mail, every phone call, every medical insurance claim. Nothing escaped her notice, and she made sure every "i" was dotted and every "t" crossed.

I can remember when the three of us were diagnosed with COVID around the same time in August 2020. My mom was in tears on the phone with my dad's dialysis center as she tried to find out what the steps were to get him into a temporary dialysis center that accepted COVID-19 patients. She was sick, and the person whom she was asking for help was very unsympathetic, but mom pressed on because she knew for my dad the longer he went without dialysis the more dire his situation could become.

Less than two years later, my dad was gone, and the dynamic definitely changed. I became the one who started keeping up with the to-do lists (which were numerous after Dad passed away) and, eventually, the appointments once we found out she had colon cancer.

Mom still handled the insurance stuff for the most part, but Medicare inexplicably denied a couple of ambulance trips, and the paperwork that revolved around the appeal process was crazy, and we had to go through it twice. With Mom's guidance, I wrote the letters and made the phone calls associated with trying to get them to pay the over $1,000 costs each for those visits to the ER.

We were successful in one case but not the other for reasons that are unacceptable but which I won't get into here.

These types of issues were/are things that in the years prior she would have handled without breaking a sweat, but no longer could because the grief from losing my dad, her ongoing health issues which were later determined to be cancer, and the other aches and pains associated with getting older - all of it understandably became overwhelming for her. 

Considering the sacrifices mom made for all of us over the years and just due to the simple fact that she's my mom, stepping into the role of her caregiver was a no-brainer for me, but it hasn't come without some unique challenges. 

We have to be more careful with food choices and to some extent lifestyle choices due to her cancer diagnosis. She completed chemo in March but per her medical oncologist, it's not a bad idea for a colon cancer patient to watch out for certain foods like processed and red meats (note: I'm not a doctor and anyone who wants more information on this should consult with their medical care team for the full 411). 

Because of that, I make recommendations on what she should have from time to time, and it doesn't always go over well. The choice is ultimately up to her, but she knows I'm doing it because I'm trying to help her, much in the same way she did with my sisters and me all those years she pushed us to eat our fruits and veggies.

Face it, no one likes to be advised on what to eat - I know my dad sure didn't and by a certain point with him, we just tried to go with the flow because he was done with being, in his words, "managed."

Other situations are especially challenging, like a medication she was on a year or so ago that I thought was doing more harm than good. She wanted to continue taking it, and we had our disagreements about it, but once we went to the doctor and she listened to what he had to say (in essence, he agreed with me), she was put on a different medication that from what I can tell has worked out well.

There are also the daily reminders for her to do her light walking exercises and PT, which when you're closing in on 80, you'd rather not do. Sometimes the reminders are met with enthusiasm, other times I get the "do I have to, really?" look of someone who just wants to be left alone to watch reruns of "Murder She Wrote." I give in sometimes on this one, but not often, because getting her stronger again is the key to her doing some of the things she wants to be able to do again.

Something important to note here is that familial caregivers don't always get it right and definitely don't have all the answers. I know I sure don't, and believe me, the Woman of the House (aka mom) lets me know it when it happens! 

We're starting to have a better "give and take" on these things, fortunately, because mom understands my role (considering what hers was with my dad when he got sick) and because I understand that it's important for her to still be mom and to be as independent as she can.

Related VIP reading -->> Caregiver's Diary Part 1: The Pain

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