Caring for Our Parents With the Support of Office-Mates

Jul 2, 2013, 9:10 AM, Posted by Patty Hall

I sipped my coffee and looked down at my mother, who was lying on the kitchen floor next to my chair.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“I wish your brother would get here.”

Yeah, me too. I’ve got to get to work.

Am I the worst daughter in the world? Not really. My 82-year-old mother lost her balance and fell this morning, and she’s too heavy for me to pick up on my own. She is dead weight. This has happened a few times in the last couple of months, and the only thing to do is to call someone to help me lift her, and wait.

This time she didn’t hurt herself (other than her pride, no doubt). She did, however, have to wait more than an hour for me to wake up. The air conditioner in my room blocked the sounds of her calling me. Imagine how I felt when I finally walked into the kitchen for my breakfast. There she was, on the floor, wriggling around and trying to pull herself up with one of the chairs. She has no arm strength and she can’t do it. She had soiled herself, too. So once my brother got there, I had to clean her up and rush to the office.

I was upset, and also angry. She refuses to wear the Life Alert pendant I implored her to get more than a year ago. If she had been wearing it, she could have pushed a button and someone would have been there to help her in just a few minutes. Despite this latest fall, she still isn’t wearing it.

How many of you have a similar person in your life? You worry about them, you cancel plans because they’ve had a bad day … your life revolves around them (or at least it seems to). You are angry, frustrated, sad and tired. It would help to talk to someone about these feelings, but who has the time?

Here at RWJF, we’ve recently started an informal support group for caregivers. We meet during our lunch hour. I thought I was the only one going through this, but we’ve got 10 or 12 “members” so far. Every situation is different, but the emotions are similar. We take turns updating each other on our situations, and I find it incredibly helpful. There is no formal therapist present—it’s just us unburdening ourselves, and I feel lighter for the rest of the day (I also usually take away some good advice). It’s wonderful to pass one of these women in the halls (so far, our membership is all female) and have them ask how I’m doing. I don’t feel alone in this anymore.

This is a workplace wellness program that costs no money. Consider starting such a group at your office. I’m willing to bet that there are employees who’d be interested.

And if you are looking for a cyber-community of caregivers, check out the New York Times blog, The New Old Age.