As National Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’d like to share the story of my friend Audrey — a woman whose compassion, perseverance, strength and resilience certainly merit an honorable mention in the Women’s Hall of Fame. I met Audrey more than 30 years ago, when she was preparing to leave her own home to move in to care for her father. Like millions of American women do every day, she balanced working full time with family caregiving. What makes Audrey’s story remarkable to me is the number of times in her life that she has given of herself to care for others.
As I drove from Billings, Mont., to Sheridan, Wyo., I saw a sign for "Buffalo 36 miles." Then it occurred to me that something felt strangely familiar. I grew up in a town called Lockport, about 29 miles from Buffalo, N.Y. So I researched a bit more. Sheridan has a population of 17,800; 20,000 live in Lockport. Sheridan gets about 72 inches of snow a year; Lockport posts a competitive 69 inches. And though my hometown doesn't have mountain ranges, it does share the same challenge — how to support family caregivers.
“I'm so tired, even my health has gone down due to stress. I love my mom ... but with my health issues, all I do is cry alone. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning, can’t breathe ... nothing seems OK.” —Ruby
A colleague recently cautioned me about using the term "respite" because she thought people wouldn't know its meaning. I found this ironic, because I actually believe it's more likely that most of us don't know how it feels rather than what it means in terms of getting a break from caring for family and friends. We rarely get to experience time completely away from the responsibility and stress of caregiving.
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