By Guest Blogger Becky Wright

I recently received a text from a friend asking about my experience as a “family caregiver.”  Basically, the text read “How did you do it?” She was aware that I had cared for my mother for over a year in my home before she passed away from complications of COPD.  My first instinct was to shoot a text back to her suggesting she invest in a good suit of armor. Just before pressing “send,” a flood of memories and emotions washed over me. I gathered my thoughts. I sent the text about the suit of armor, but I also told her that we needed to talk.

My friend had just learned that her mother was “terminal,” and the best estimate from the healthcare professionals was that she had approximately a year to live.

This is what I told her:

~ This is one of the most difficult things you will ever do, but you will be OK.

~ You will experience sadness, guilt, resentment, loss, grief, anxiety, exhaustion, anger – and these are all normal feelings. Not good or bad; just normal feelings. Accept them and just breathe.

~ Ask questions, and expect answers. You are not medically sophisticated, and that is OK, but do ask the healthcare professionals who have that expertise.

~ Put together a strong support team that includes family or friends who will allow you to vent without judging, a therapist or social worker, local and national organizations with disease-specific information.

~ When someone says, “Let me know if I can do anything,” be prepared to make a specific request. For example, “We can always use an extra casserole in the freezer.”

~ Take care of yourself.  Think about the oxygen mask example on the airplane.  No matter who is in the seat next to you, you will not be able to help them until you have first put on your own mask. So if you are not sleeping, eating, taking care of your own health, you will not be able to care for your mom.  Period.

~ There will be rare moments with your mom when it seems the universe has aligned and you will be able to share memories, laugh and just be.  Treasure those moments.

~ Never be afraid to ask for help.

A few years after my mother passed away, I was offered a position with the SECU Family House to manage their Education Program.  The curriculum is “Caring for Caregivers.”  So having previously worked in medical education at Wake Forest School of Medicine and caring for my mother at the end of her life provided me with the qualifications to work with students and house guests of the Family House.  I could have never guessed that my experience as a family caregiver would prepare me for this rewarding career.

From the fall of 2016, until she passed away in March 2017, I had the privilege of caring for my aunt, who had tragically lost both of her adult children. There was a different dynamic than when I cared for my mother.  Of course, all mothers of daughters know there is nothing quite like the complicated mother-daughter relationship. But from the experience I gained caring for my mother, combined with my invaluable experience working at the Family House, I was able to confidently and lovingly provide care and advocate for my aunt up until her death.  I miss her fiercely, but I feel blessed to have had that opportunity.

*Becky is currently the Educational Services Manager at the SECU Family House which provides affordable lodging and support services in a caring environment for referred adult patients and/or their caregivers who travel to Winston-Salem, N.C., for medical treatment.