Leaving on a Jet PlaneThe Long Distance Caregivers Dilemma

I printed my boarding pass and more than anything I wanted to go home. Work was waiting, my husband was waiting and I missed my familiar surroundings. I glanced across the room at my dad who had been feeling ill during my visit and made my offer one more time. Dad, I can stay a few more days. Even though he answered, Ill be alright. I could tell that he wanted me to stay.

I felt torn between two worlds, my world and my dads world. After some tearful minutes in the bedroom, I had my answer. I came back into the living room and said, Ill stay for a few more days. My dads face relaxed and he became talkative for the first time all morning. I knew Id made the right choice.

Although I have visited my dad each month, I realized that I didn't have a plan for times when I'm torn between staying and leaving, when its not clear what the right answer is. Anyone who doesn't live near aging family members may walk into a situation like mine, where your phone calls did not tell you how bad the situation was and how much help your family member needs. Sometimes you may not be as lucky as I was and need to return home when you originally planned. What a terrible feeling to have to walk out the door and know that your family member still needs you. Realistically, each one of us will face a time when no matter what the situation, we have leave.

I didn't plan for this type of crisis in advance. Looking back, what would I do differently?

  1. Create a more open and honest line of communication with my father. Its hard to ask for help and to know when you are over your head. No one wants to compromise his independence or be a burden to family members. Knowing this, my dad and I need to set some criteria when he will ask for help. Our criteria might include the length of the illness, needing help with daily activities like cooking, shopping, driving to doctor appointments or needing help with personal care like bathing.
  2. Speak with my dad and other family members on how we would handle this type of crisis. What would my father want to do when he needs help and other family members cant provide it? Its important to have a sense of acceptable options and the budget we can work with.
  3. Identify resources now that we will use in an emergency situation. My visits are perfect times to research services in dads area. If I didn't have a visit planned soon, Id use the web to help find local resources.

Some questions and scenarios to ask ourselves:

  • If my parent is open to have a caregiver come in and help, which agency will our family use?
  • If my parent would consider a respite stay at a local assisted living community, which community would we use? What are their policies, procedures and costs for a temporary stay?
  • If family and friends will be helping out by running errands and cooking meals, what will they do and how often can they help out?
  • What other community services might be helpful to my parent and how do we start using the services?

By investigating resources before an emergency you can have the peace of mind of knowing exactly who you will be working with and avoid any surprises that could come up because you didn't know all the details of how the service would be provided, information you need to provide and the cost.

Another benefit of planning ahead and lining up resources is that you can provide care to your parent during an emergency before you arrive.

Dads feeling better. The hardest thing is walking out the door knowing that he is not 100%. I feel better knowing that we have a plan for the next time he gets sick.

The best thing I can do as a long distance caregiver is plan ahead. The more we prepare and plan, the better we can handle these situations when they come up.

Have you faced a similar dilemma with a family member? How did you decide whether to stay or leave? What steps did you take to make sure he/she would be well taken care of after you returned home?