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I used to think I knew everything there was to know about caregiving. I started caregiving early in life, having the privilege to grow up with my grandmother living with us for a time. From that experience, I found my life’s path: caring for others. My first real job was working in a senior care center, where I learned so many life lessons. As I grew, my desire to be a Social Worker overlapped with my desire to work with older adults; hence, I minored in Gerontology.
In my early adult life, raising children and with my mother-in-law living with us, that caregiving role continued. It seemed to come naturally to care for those in need, whether it was the older adults in my life or the younger children. Family and friends would call on me and my family, knowing we were up for the task.
In 2011, my caregiving took an intense turn. One of my sisters had a life altering stroke that left her with some permanent disabilities. Once again, family looked to me to figure out how to move forward. After some years and advocacy, we were able to find a supportive living environment that best suits her needs.
After several years of supervising a program that works with adults with disabilities, things changed for my career goals. Little did I know that I would get back into the field of Social Work and working with older adults. That is how I began my time working with DARTS.
My employment with DARTS was exciting to me as it was such a natural fit. Tallying up my years of experience, I continued to think I knew it all as a caregiver! My first few caregiver support groups proved me wrong. I listened as caregivers (mostly significant others) spoke about the changes in their life when their loved one was diagnosed with Dementia.
I soon realized that I was holding the unreal expectation that family and friends would of course rally around the person and give the help needed to the main caregiver. That has not proven to be the reality. I hear repeatedly how the caregiver feels isolated and overwhelmed at times. Given the fact that many of the caregivers are older adults themselves, there are some interesting challenges that occur. I continue to learn from them. I appreciate the lessons they have taught me and admire their tenacity.
My personal caregiving journey continued, as I assisted in caregiving for my mother-in-law and father-in-law until their passing in 2018. Reeling from those losses, my mother was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2020. This journey brought it all together for me. She had a short life expectancy, (2 days-2months). We were dealing with Covid at the same time, but her desire to come home for her final days was very clear. As we brought her home, I fully understood the trials and honors of being a caregiver for an older adult.
We put many things in place while working with hospice. Fulfilling her daily needs was an honor to be a part of. Being the sassy person she was, she made no mistake in identifying her needs. Dessert with every meal, why not! Going to get her hair done was a must! Her choir singing to her outside and a parade driving by the house was monumental to a life well lived. While her passing is still such a loss, many happy memories hold true.
While I realize my caregiving role is not over, I can truly say that “I don’t know everything there is to know about caregiving.” My recommendations are to lean on each other, communicate, reach out and find the little joys that keep us going. And always find support, whether that’s in your family, your friends, your community, or in support groups.
To learn more about caregiver resources and support groups, go to the DARTS website at dartsconnects.org/caregiver-services. People like Vicki are here to listen and support you on your caregiving journey!
Vicki is a Program Specialist at DARTS, where she works with older adults. She is a Licensed Social Worker and has been a professional caregiver as well as a personal caregiver for many years to countless people. She has had over 20 years working with adults with disabilities in a supervisory capacity. Vicki has also had over 10 years working with older adults. She is a member of various professional groups. Vicki enjoys volunteering her time serving food to various groups of all ages. She has also spent time assisting family and friends navigating through end of life, as well as illness from which they are recovering. In her spare time, she loves watching different sports, especially football, soccer, and hockey. She also enjoys participating in outdoor activities regardless of the weather (going on picnics, walking tour of holiday lights, etc.). Family is especially important to Vicki. She has been married for almost 35 years and has three grown children. One of her favorite pastimes is cooking and hosting weekly family dinners.
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