Grief and Bereavement During the Covid-19 Pandemic
An interview with Landmark social worker Mary Ann Stetz, MSW, LSW
Many people today are faced with the difficult task of caring for an aging parent. The National Alliance for Caregiving reported that 36 percent of the 65 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. are caring for an aging parent. This challenging role reversal leaves current and future caregivers asking a difficult question: How do you prepare for becoming your parents’ caregiver?
As you do prepare for caregiving duties, it is important to explore your own abilities and what you will realistically be able to do for your parents. In order to avoid becoming overwhelmed with stress, you should consider what life would be like for you as a caregiver.
Once you have thoroughly considered your new role, you are ready to take the five following steps towards enhancing your ability to properly care for your parents:
Sit down and have an honest conversation with your parents before they are sick, incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate effectively. Encourage your parents to discuss their fears about aging. Ask what they need from you to continue to live as independently as possible. Identify whom they want to help them when they need it. Inquire how they would feel about leaving home if additional help becomes necessary.
Promote their independence as much as possible. Respect their privacy and intimacy for your sake and theirs.
It is difficult to work together in a time of health crisis, particularly if your relationship is problematic. And it is OK to acknowledge that you may not be the best person to take on the role of caregiver. In that case, identify your skill set so you can help in other ways.
Talk with your parents’ doctor or find a geriatric social worker for additional guidance, too.
This information is invaluable in gaining an understanding of your parents’ wishes and will guide your efforts to ensure a smooth transition when they become unable to care for themselves.
The added responsibility of billing and insurance only makes health crises more difficult. Therefore, it is essential to discuss your parents’ finances with them. What will their resources cover regarding additional help? What insurance coverage do they have? What other assets, such as stock and real estate, are available? Know the names and contact information of their doctors and health insurers.
If information about their finances is in a bank safe deposit box, where is the key? In case of an emergency, inquire about the possibility of gaining access to the box. (You may not be allowed access unless your name is also on it. )
This critical step will help you gain a greater understanding about what professional help your parents can afford and give you the guidelines to find the proper help.
Death is a taboo topic of conversation, but having the conversation about it with your parents could be the greatest gift they can give you as their caregiver.
Advanced directives should be instituted. A living will describes the medical treatment your parents do and don’t want when they can no longer speak for themselves. A health-care proxy names a specific person to make decisions on your parents’ behalf if they can’t. The Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order tells the health-care team what to do if the patient stops breathing or his or her heart stops beating.
It is imperative to have a copy or know the location of these documents. This removes the burden of making life and death health decisions from your plate with the added bonus of knowing you are honoring your parent’s wishes.
Respect can go both ways. It is difficult to watch parents lose independence, memory, mobility and self-care abilities. In the same way, it is a difficult progression for aging parents to cope with.
Promote your parents’ independence as much as possible. Respect their privacy and intimacy for your sake and theirs. If they need help bathing, you may want a non-family member to do it. Try to communicate and collaborate on these issues, honoring each other’s wishes as much as you can.
A critical error in caregiving is ignorance of one’s own needs, which can cause burnout. It is hard to see your parents’ physical and mental health decline. Facing grief and the loss of the parents you once knew can be emotionally painful. It is also physically challenging; therefore, it is essential to recharge.
You will want to have someone close by you can trust to talk about this process as it unfolds. Find someone who can offer emotional and physical support. Find out about respite care if you need help with ongoing care needs, also. Seek out a family member, friend, clergy or health care professional to offer emotional support. Online caregiver sites are also a great source of support and resources.