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Caregiver of the Month
April 2001
Elaine Guerrero

Elaine with grandchildren

Elaine, Mother, Son, Father, Daughter & Grandchildren

Aloha From Hawaii

I've "cared for/tended to" my children, my brothers and sister (at one time or another), sick people, neighbors' babies, relatives (cousins), and even pets. I've learned that there are opportunities for growth in many of life's circumstances, both good and not so good. When a close friend's mom became ill, they did not know who to ask for help. I had been home, occasionally baby-sitting my grandchildren, aiding my daughter with their care while I received treatment for recurring pains from a neck and back injury from fifteen years ago (a bus accident). Despite my situation, I was glad to help out. I also made the commitment to do the best I could.

I had been caring for "Grandma Y" since July 2000 until January 2001. At 80 yrs old she lost her younger sister/friend to terminal cancer, developed an ulcer, and had to give up her care of a son suffering from Anxiety /Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Always in good physical health she had terrible guilt when she no longer could care for her son. Then, she had a number of physical problems, being hospitalized three times in four months.

At first, one of her bachelor sons moved us into his large house with the family coming over on weekends, when I would return home to my children/grandchildren. During the weekdays, it was just she and I at home while her son and granddaughter worked. Our days were spent getting her well, from medications to nutritious meals to walks and exercises. She seemed in good spirits and eager to recover, but soon another problem became more noticeable. She started washing her hands and fixating about her laundry. She would awaken around 2:30 am and again nearly every hour, paranoid and panicky. It almost seemed as if she had taken on the personality of her son with OCD. It wore the family out. "Not mom too" they thought. "And if it runs in the family, are we headed for the same?" I was exhausted, too. When I returned home, I had my own family worries to think about.

When life becomes difficult we tend to focus only on the good times. No one thinks that we will get sick or hurt. Even then, we dream of other things. There were times when it was very difficult for me to feel good about being there or anywhere. I wished it would all end. I needed something else, I thought. I longed to be at home with my grandchildren, doing my craft business or sewing or making my reed baskets. I thought of all the other things I could be doing with my life. But then I would see Grandma Y and her daughter. We grew up together, Aileen and I, and have known each other our whole lives. What she has experienced somehow is paralleled in my life, too. If it were my mom, would I think this way? No, I'd do what I needed to do. So I focused and did it with love in my heart knowing it was the best I could do.

But even doing your best sometimes doesn't change much. Grandma Y became depressed and wasn't eating well. She seemed to have lost the will to live. Now she suffers from Anxiety/Anorexia and Depression. We've tried psychiatric/group therapy but she seems to be deteriorating slowly. It is so sad to see her waste away. She feels she is a burden and wants to leave this world. We had been thrown into the struggles of geriatric care, researching and learning. Each day is a challenge to keep her positive and eating.

I had to give up Grandma Y's care when my mother became ill. Now, her family is struggling with her care among the working adult children and grandchildren. But I still see her and visit her if she is hospitalized. She had become an important part of my life, too.

On Jan 8 2001, my mother was hospitalized for what she thought may be pneumonia. The x-rays revealed a lung/bronchial cancer. Instead of catching a plane to Las Vegas, she was taken by ambulance to the hospital, unable to breathe. The cancer is inoperable. Breathing was as difficult as living at this point. Radiation treatments helped to reduce the tumor to open up her collapsed lung. She returned home and is doing as well as could be expected. I did not hesitate in helping my dad and younger brother with her care. When she gained enough weight, her feeding tube was removed. Until then, our days were filled with schedules and doctor appointments, situations I became familiar with while caring for Grandma Y. (another irony of Aileen's life and mine).

About the same time mom got better, my daughter, 21/single parent, found two part time jobs. I returned home to care for my two grandchildren, ages 2 years & 11 months and also my 18 year old son. So now I am watching my grandchildren during the week and going over to mom's on the weekend instead. Mom is glad to have my company. Woman to woman; we laugh, talk, walk, etc. We had been distant in my adult relationship, but every day/moment brings us closer. Her spirit is good and we try to see the humor in every situation. Better to laugh than cry; crying is so draining. My only problem is commuting. Forty minutes each way is grueling not only on my back but also on my older, very used car. I'd do it even if it was farther away.

There has never been a question in my mind to care for someone in need. Maybe it is the mother instinct in me. Maybe it is my life experiences that has opened my heart to those suffering or less fortunate. All I know is life is so special and short that we should make each day wonderful. Caring for others can make that effort a struggle, but I am blessed with an opportunity to bring a little sunshine into an otherwise depressing situation.

I happened upon the Empowering Caregivers website while researching for information to help Grandma Y. After a frustrating day at home, I thought to simplify my life and cancel my subscription to the newsletter. I had difficulty with that and it's a good thing I did. That is how I became familiar with Gail. We corresponded and she invited me to write my story. I got all choked up with tears but then a bit giddy. (Had to do deep breaths to keep from floating off.) Opportunities and blessings come when one least expects it. It is important for us to connect with like minded spirits as she puts it. Thank you, Gail for a wonderful web site. Your kind words of praise have helped me through another day. My life is enriched also having "met" you via email as I know our Empowering Caregivers community is as well. I hope that sharing my story will help or inspire others to see the gift of life caregiving is for those in need. We are given opportunities for growth in many different ways. A song of inspiration, learning from our children, caring for a special soul, even difficulties of life. Each moment can be the moment we move to a higher level of love. May you be blessed with wonderful, heartfelt moments that brighten your light.

With love always,

Copyrighy Elaine Guerrero 03/25/01

EMAIL: Elaine Guerrero

EMPOWER, NG CAREGIVERS features the "CAREGIVER OF THE MONTH SPOTLIGHT". If you know of a unique caregiver who you would like to honor or perhaps submit yourself, please send a jpg photograph (if one is available) along with your story. All submissions must be received by the third week of each month to be considered. In the subject line, please type CAREGIVER SPOTLIGHT SUBMISSION. Submit your entries   

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