About twenty years ago my parents became snow birds, traveling back and forth from Central New York to the Tampa/Clearwater area every year. They eventually bought a home in Zephyrhills, Florida and gave up their home “up north”. I felt abandoned.

When my dad had his first heart attack I was 1,300 miles away with a new job and couldn’t go to be with them. Trying to care for them long distance was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I eventually was able to transfer to Florida with my job and now live about an hour away from them. I’m close enough now so that I can be there relatively quickly if they need me, without being so close that they feel I am hovering. This past year my parents have become more frail — almost overnight.

I’ve learned that there is a fine line between showing them that I love them and appearing to want to take away their independence. They are both very proud people who are very aware of their health problems and resulting disabilities. They sure don’t need me treating them like helpless invalids, yet they truly appreciate an occasional helping hand.

Whew! It’s like performing a balancing act to accomplish this. It’s is also difficult to know how much to share with my brothers. They have their plates full with their own lives, and yet these are their parents too. It’s tough to decide what is not necessary to share, and what they are entitled to know.

My brothers and I have arranged for our parents to have a computer with Internet access. One thing that I do is send them frequent email messages. My Dad loves checking his email and I want something there other than junk mail. Sometimes I send a joke, and sometimes just say “I love you”.

At least once a month I go to spend the weekend with them. We usually just hang out. I cook dinner, we go to the ice cream shop for a treat. We sometimes play a board game together or go t a flea market. It is a very relaxing time for me, away from a stressful job. I think that they enjoy my visits too, or I wouldn’t go.

Our family has also created a private room on AOL that we can enter whenever we want to. We have a set time of 7pm every Sunday that everyone who can, goes to the room for a family chat. I have four brothers in four different states, plus my parents and assorted aunts and uncles and friends that frequently pop in also. It is the greatest thing.

If your family isn’t all on AOL, you might try a Round Robin letter. We have done this for about ten years and even with the advent of email, still continue with it. For those of you that are not familiar with Round Robin Letters – here’s how it works:

1) Make up a routing roster of name and address of everyone that you feel it should go to.

2) Write a letter to everyone explaining the process.

3) send it to the first person on the list.

4) They read your letter, and add one of their own, and send both to second
person on list.

5) it keeps going until it gets back to you.

6)Now you remove your letter and replace it with a new one and send it on.

I suggest that you ask that people keep letters to one sheet of paper with no enclosures — to help keep postage down. This link between our family members is one of the most welcome pieces of mail that ever comes into my mail box. It is like receiving a huge family hug. I can’t wait to tear it open and read what everyone has to say.

Being a long distance care giver is tough on everyone. My brothers feel guilty because they can’t do more. Sometimes I feel a little angry because they don’t do more. Our family chat room, or emails back and forth to each other and our round robin letters, however, help to bridge the distance.

Being a Long Distance Caregiver is a tough job but with a little creativity – it can be a good experience for all of you.

Copyright by Shaywardncr 12/10/1999