A UNIQUE FOCUS
2007 "Give a Caregiver a Break" FIRST-PRIZE WINNER: Elizabeth
Photography by Fran Collin
"Where's my wife?" my grandfather said, appearing panicked at the doorway. I put my arm around him."She's in the hospital, Grandpa. She had a stroke, remember?"
He had been at the hospital all day, but he did not remember. "Oh, my God," he said, "I'm losing my mind."
At 21, I've been the primary caregiver for my grandparents for two and a half years. I also am a fulltime student and work part time. I love caring for them, but sometimes I find myself struggling to find time to care for me. Each week I spend hours at their apartment cleaning, clipping fingernails, picking out clothes, and helping them change and use the bathroom. Add in taking them to doctor appointments and weekly shopping for Depends, toilet paper and milk for my grandfather's nightly snack, and it becomes overwhelming.
The most difficult part, though, is not the time I spend at my grandparents' apartment. Rather, it's the time I spend worrying about my grandmother. She has had every ailment, from cancers to broken bones to strokes. But she's met them all with strength and a positive attitude. Now it is her heart that is breaking as she watches her once-loving husband succumb to Alzheimer's. I see her great spirit fading before my eyes. She, too, needs a break from the emotional care she gives my grandfather.
Apart from tending to their physical and emotional needs, my most important job as a caregiver is to advocate for my grandparents' rights and to make certain they are treated with respect. Caregiving is a challenging role that has greatly influenced my life. It has allowed me, at a young age, to witness the final stages of life. While making my grandparents' last years comfortable and dignified, I have realized how much there is to learn from those who have been on this earth for so long. To see the slow destruction of a body and a mind as they creep closer and closer to death gives me insight on life. Having the ability to actively appreciate my agile body and working mind while I still have them is a gift.
People have said they see a new sensitivity in me since I began caring for my grandparents. One said she could tell by my comfortable and respectful interactions with elderly people that I must be a caregiver. I took it as a great compliment. And since then, as a film major, I have made documentaries about caring for aging loved ones.
With the help of Home Instead Senior Care, I could focus more on school and continue to make films that shed new light and sensitivity on caregiving for the elderly. Through my films, caregivers know they are not alone.
—Elizabeth Nixon, Kenmore, NY
First-Prize Winner of $2,500 in free respite care
from Home Instead Senior Care