When the Cavalry Doesn’t Arrive
By Donna Scrafano
A former supervisor once told me that if we don’t have expectations of an individual, we won’t be disappointed in them. Simple, right? Not really, especially when one is providing care to a loved one and there are others who could—and should—assist.
I’ve written approximately nine articles pertaining to the art of caregiving, or should I say the exhaustion, the tediousness, the stress, or any one of the hundreds of words that describe this very important task. To that list, let me add another one: “art.” Because I believe it is an art. And not everyone is blessed with this skill, one that may often feel like a curse.
In my case, it was my father to whom I provided care. But aren’t even those who are “blessed” with the ability to provide caregiving to our loved ones entitled to expect assistance from siblings? Not according to my family. Time and time again I was told “this was your choice.” Evidently, because I stepped up to do the right thing, I was not to request help. One sibling literally left the country (he lives in Canada) and did not visit until my beloved father was on his deathbed. Seriously, why bother? The other, seemingly begrudgingly, would take my father out for a ride once a week—if this retired sibling’s schedule permitted, that is.
I once read an article in the Washington Post about a woman who was caring for her elderly mother and had siblings who didn’t provide any assistance. This woman wrote that she felt uncomfortable about directly asking for help. However, she would drop hints about needing her siblings to step up to the plate. If I would be able to give advice to this writer, I would have told her to be direct and specific about what was needed and hope for the best. And if the siblings made up excuses as to why they couldn’t or wouldn’t pitch in to help, I’d advise her to move on and develop her own “cavalry.” That’s what I did.
Before reading that article, I had had several conversations with at least six other caregivers who were experiencing or had experienced similar situations, i.e., siblings who didn’t or wouldn’t join in the caregiving for a parent or other relative. I spent years hoping that my siblings would participate in the care of both of my parents. As previously noted, one resided in Canada. The other consistently reminded me that “it was your choice to do this.” The remainder of that sentence was: “I would’ve let Dad go into skilled nursing care, permanently.” Finally, after feeling I was banging my head on a brick wall, I decided to form what I called my own “cavalry.” I first reached out to our local Agency on Aging. They have programs that assist caregivers. I then researched support services such as an adult day program. Our local adult day program was a godsend for me, honestly. Not only did it free up my time, the program was very stimulating for my father. Quite honestly, I believe he had more of a social life than I did! I also recruited past employment colleagues according to their various skills. For instance, one former colleague was a retired certified nurse’s aide; another was a barber. I found a podiatrist who would come to the home, though I couldn’t find a primary-care provider who made house calls. Imagine! Additional supporters included my children, and sometimes even my grandchildren.
I know that costs can be a concern, this is where your local Agency on Aging may be able to assist. There are reimbursement and waiver programs. Reach out to your local agency. And if you or your loved one do not qualify for financial waivers, etc., you have the responsibility and the right to withdraw from your loved one’s funds to provide such care. But be mindful. I am “old school” in that I kept the receipts for every single transaction. Other necessary steps included engaging an attorney to draw up a will, signing a do-not-resuscitate order if warranted, obtaining your loved one’s power of attorney, and having your loved one designate an executor/executrix.
I find great peace in reporting that my father passed away as he lived his life: peacefully, humbly, with dignity, and with his “cavalry” surrounding him throughout the entire process. A word of advice: If your expected “cavalry” does not show up, move on. Build your own.
Photo by Neil Thomas @finleydesign.
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna's relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends and family. Her last full-time position was providing care to her father. Since that has ended, Donna is taking the time to invest in her own self care and interests.