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'Thanks for coming'

Mom was sick. I was at a work conference, even farther away than normal. As I kept in touch by phone I knew it was an infection. Pretty severe, but she was showing signs of improvement. The medication seemed to be working. Dad was a trooper. “We’re OK” was the message I was getting, but I suspected a cover-up. Those of us who are “daughters from a distance” know the guilt, worry and pain of not being able to be there.

It’s difficult to always get the whole story. For example, a few days into this, Dad said “Well, she’s walking pretty well on her own now.” What? When was she not walking on her own? These are my parents, and I’m guessing if I was so weak I was having difficulty walking, they were there for me. The guilt of not being able to just be there.

My brother pointed out that we need to pay attention to Dad also. He might be getting a little overwhelmed. My dad is pretty capable of most things, but then so is my mom. She always shares the work load. As life goes on (married 58 years) you really start to depend on each other. All of a sudden, my dad was not only worried about mom’s health and decisions that need to be made, he needed to be there constantly for her care. He also needed to do what she normally did — the laundry, cooking, grocery shopping. Things were really piling up. The worry when you just can’t be there.

“We know you’re busy Deb. You need to work. Don’t worry about us. We’re OK.” Pain. Guilt. Worry.

One of my favorite websites, has a series of videos on work/life balance. In these videos it talks about the constant concern for having balance between work and life. It seems it should be easier in our day of technology, but balancing work and life seems to be even more difficult. We constantly have access to information which often gives us more responsibilities to our jobs – and longer hours. A struggling economy forces us to work longer hours and possibly worry about losing a job if we don’t. Combining that with child care, social and community activities, and other family matters is difficult in itself. Then when life throws you a curve ball (like a parent becoming suddenly ill) the balance you strive for turns totally upside down. That creates more stress.

The videos talk about watching for signs of too much stress when work and life are out of balance and gives tips to avoid burn out and stress. Caregivers should enlist the help from other family members, friends and professional help. One of the first things to do is ask for help! Each member of the team can have a responsibility, depending on the other demands in their own lives. If one member can get groceries and organize a list for meals, another might have the availability to take to doctor’s appointments. Family members who live distance away can help by scheduling a visit for a week or two during the year, to give members that live close a well-deserved break. Family members at a distance may also be of help with things that can be managed by phone (scheduling appointments, researching bills) or can be designated as the one to manage email communications to all members of the team. They could also assist with finances to hire help for extra jobs that need to be done around the house (mowing lawn, housekeeping, professional companionship).

Communication with family and friends is extremely important. If others don’t know what’s happening or how much is needed to be covered, they cannot help. Keeping all members informed can help share the load. Also, being flexible on how things are done is important. There is more ways than one way to care for someone and everyone has their own style.

Let go of little things. Find balance by rethinking some of your standards. An unmade bed will not affect the quality of your life or the person you are caring for. Also it may be helpful to track everything you do in one week, work and non-work activities. Look at the list and cut out or delegate what you don’t enjoy or don’t have time to do.

Caregivers also need to consider respite care. Respite care is defined as “the gift of time.” Recruit a team of family and outside help if necessary to get a break from your normal routine. This help can go a long way in finding balance between your work and life.

If you truly are having difficulty with keeping up with work, don’t forget to research programs your employer may offer to assist you. There is the Family Leave Act which may allow you to take time off because of medical needs in your family. There are also Employee Assistant Programs that normally offer free assistance that can help figure out ways to ease your caregiving stress. Work with your employer for alternate work schedules if possible. With telecommuting opportunities, a laptop and cell phone from your parents home may allow you to balance your work and caregiving responsibilities. Don’t forget to check into job sharing, compressed work weeks (four 10-hour days) or shared leave (donations of annual, sick, personal holidays hours from other employees) as possibilities. Most employers understand the importance of balancing your work with your responsibilities in life.

For more information and tips to balancing your work and your life, please visit and click on the topic “Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others” and then view the videos “How to Balance Work and At-Home Care.” Also, always feel free to contact me at 824-0077.

I was able to get to my mom and dad’s last week, even though it was for a shorter time than I wanted it to be. I was able to help a little with tasks, and I know Dad appreciated that. Most importantly I was just able to be there. When all these responsibilities come your way, and you’re working hard to cover all things in work and life, remember the most important thing is probably just the time. My mom needed some help, but the fact that she ate better, walked around a little more and laughed during our conversations was probably the best help. Companionship is a very important medicine not to be discounted, no matter how short the time. “We’re OK Deb. We know you’re busy, and you really didn’t need to take the time, but thank you so much for coming.

DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.