Although I’m not a caregiver myself, I have been surrounded by caregivers my whole life. My mother was the primary caregiver for my grandmother and like in many families, there is always one sibling that takes control of the caregiving and decision making. My mother took that responsibility while also being a spouse and a mother. Once my grandmother was put in a home so that she could get the care she needed, my mother would visit her after her part time job, come home to cook for us, then go back to put her mother to sleep. I saw the love and patience it took.
Prior to my political career, I was an owner and operator of a retirement residence. This experience opened my eyes more to caregiving. Although staff were taking care of the residents, we relied on caregivers to also help us care for their loved ones.
We took care of many, but there are a few experiences that stand out for me during this part of my life. A couple that moved into our retirement home because the wife had Alzheimer’s were doing great at the beginning, but we began to notice signs of depression in Monsieur after a couple years. We began monitoring and speaking with him about it until he finally became comfortable speaking to us. His wife’s disease had progressed and made her extremely aggressive towards him. He felt shame in this and did not want his children to find out. He was so selfless and so focused on her that he endured it. At that moment we felt like we were his caregivers, allowing him to be vulnerable and openly listening to him without judgement. We helped him understand that it was nobody’s fault and his role as a caregiver did not mean that he had to endure this. I was grateful that he felt comfortable approaching us so that we could help him. Very often, I see caregivers completely forget to care for themselves and feel guilty by it, but it is so important as you can’t help anyone if you’re not okay.
Another experience that has impacted me greatly was during my political career but also connected to the work I did prior is about a couple who not only were taking care of their mother in my retirement residence but also a child with a disability. I only found out years later when they approached me expressing their fear of what may happen to their daughter once they are gone – who would take care of her? It was an emotional conversation that I remember clearly to this day.
I also have seen the effects that grieving has on caregivers when their loved one passes away. We need to provide caregivers with the resources they need after a loved one dies because they become so susceptible to depression. Many have adopted the role of caregiving as their identity and when their loved one passes, they lose track of who they are.
As an MP, I try to influence and help develop policies that recognize the integral role caregivers play in our healthcare system. As a society we have to also be conscious that we have an aging population, and we have to create policies that take into consideration the needs of seniors. At the end of the day, individuals should be able to choose and plan for the care they prefer whether it is congregate living or living at home. As policy makers we have to address and provide solutions for society’s changing needs.