The making of a caregiver

Life flipped over sideways for me in the spring of 2014. Dad was slipping into dementia, Mom wasn’t in such hot shape herself, and I was needed to help take care of them.

So I made the trek from my South Carolina home, crossed the boundary into that foreign country called California, and got to work. Mom would live another six months, and Dad hung on another two and a half years without her.

But in the three years as a family caregiver, I learned something: I wasn’t terrible at this. In fact, I did a good job of it. There’s a huge learning curve for caregivers and not much in the way of classes for it, and when you’re thrown into a family situation like this you don’t have time to take classes anyway. It’s sink or swim, and learn as you go. Parceling out meds, cooking, driving, the occasional emergency cleanup, managing their finances, arguing with doctors, all that stuff fell into my lap.

Other caregivers are probably the best resource available; they’ve seen and done everything at least twice. Like I remember calling an old friend back home to ask how she coped with her mom’s occasional urinary tract infections. This wasn’t exactly something I ever expected to ask her, but it’s a blessing she was available to help.

In 2017 my work in California ended, and I moved back home. The idea of caregiving did cross my mind a few times, but I tucked it aside. I need to decompress anyway. 

So I’m working a fun little temp job with the city’s parks department, mowing lawns and throwing down sod. The city yard was on a piece of land adjacent to the freeway, and there’s this billboard on the property:

Here’s your sign, Bubba.

Okay, I’m a good ol’ Southern Baptist boy. I do believe God gets His message across any way He wants. And I believe He has a sense of humor. 

Soon I was working for a home health agency. Not the company on the billboard, but that same work. Yes, 60 is a good age for a career change. 

Strangely enough, days after I left the temp gig and settled into the home health agency, that billboard was gone. Replaced with one for some plumbing outfit, I think.

Now I do some work through the agency and some as an independent, bringing a sense of style to work with me.

Before then, I worked as a journalist, taxi driver, thriller author, musician, and whatever else kept the wolf away from the door.

The musician part is especially rewarding to me; while in California I played at regular parties for caregivers and care recipients at a local senior center, an effort fronted by the Purple City Alliance SoCal. Dad always looked forward to those when he was alive. He could hang out with his girlfriends, he became buddies with the 90-something guitar player, and he could tell people his son’s with the band. Bragging rights are good at any age.

Posted by Rich Gardner on Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Playing some harp at a Purple City Alliance SoCal bash, sometime in 2016. Video by Rich Gardner.