Profiles in caring: Caring for loved ones just part of the plan for Ibarra family
Caring for loved ones just part of the plan for Ibarra family
The connection Amy Ibarra shares with her aunt, Gayle Egan, is easy to see as the two women laugh during a conversation inside an apartment at the Casey’s Pond senior living center.
“I grew up with her,” Amy said. “She came to our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She came to my school plays and everything else when I was growing up. She has always been a big part of my life.”
It’s a relationships that has taken shape over a lifetime, but in the past 16 months, it’s taken a new form. Gayle, at age 86, is legally blind and needs increasing help with the everyday things she once took for granted.
Amy, who has two teenage children and a full-time job, has fallen into the role of caregiver for the second time in her life. She considers herself a part of the Sandwich Generation, which refers to middle-aged adults who have raised or are nearly finished raising their own children but are with taking care of aging parents — or in this case, her aunt.
Amy first became a caregiver a decade ago, when she cared for her father, who struggled with Alzheimer’s before he passed away in 2007. She hadn’t planned on being in this position again, but when her aunt’s health took a turn for the worse in February 2016, Amy asked Gayle to move to Steamboat Springs.
“I work full time, and (my husband) George works full time. It’s not easy,” Amy said. “It’s just what you do when you have family.”
Amy’s aunt had been living in an apartment by herself in Broomfield, with Amy and a brother checking in with her from time to time.
“She had been living in an apartment by herself, but her health has declined fairly dramatically,” Amy said. “That’s why she had to move up here. I gave her the choice, but I could not keep taking off of work to go down to support her.”
Amy felt it was her turn to help and was hoping to get her aunt an apartment in the area and integrate Gayle into her family’s life while providing minimal care. But Amy said one of the first things you learn when caring for another person is that things rarely go as planned.
“When we first brought her up here, we dreamed that she would be able to integrate into our life,” Amy said. “But it just doesn’t work that way. She goes to bed early, and a lot of our children’s athletic events don’t begin until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., when she is ready for bed. She is legally blind, so baseball, softball and basketball games are pretty meaningless for her. She lasts about half a game before she is ready to go back to her apartment.”
Amy said the transition wasn’t as smooth as she had expected, and there wasn’t as much overlap as she had hoped for. She said the family quickly turned to Casey’s Pond and its assist living care for help.
“We have a lot of delightful times,” Amy said. “I treasure spending time with my aunt. She tells me stories that I didn’t know about her growing up, stories from her childhood, stories about her parents and my mom. There are stories that I never knew and never would have known if I had not had this opportunity to spend time with her. It’s also been a great chance for my kids to get to know her.”
Amy said the responsibilities that come with care don’t only fall on her shoulders but have been accepted by all the members of her immediate family. She said her daughter, who is driving, will take time to stop by and visit with her aunt, and her son is willing to help.
Amy makes sure she takes Gayle out for lunch once per week, and she often stops by the apartment, many times with her husband, George, for a few hours during the week. Since her aunt is in town, Amy is able to call her when she is running by the store to pick a few things up.
“I’ll ask her if she needs anything,” Amy said. “That way, I can save a trip and also know that she has everything she wants. She likes chips, cookies and an occasional bottle of wine.”
Amy says taking care of her aunt has meant simplifying life and learning how to say “no,” with a period, to many of the things she used to take on.
“We’ve worked it out to pay some of her bills online. That’s something her generation is not comfortable with. It wasn’t her preference, but she has had to make some compromises, as well,” Amy said. “I carry a wallet in my purse that is hers — it is actually her stuff, her insurance cards, a little bit of cash and a place to keep her receipts separate from mine. That makes the stress a little less for me and for her.”
“I sometimes tell people, ‘It’s the year of no,’” Amy continued. “I just can’t take on anymore in my life.”
Amy admits she isn’t sure if she is doing everything right, and she isn’t really sure if there is a right way, or a wrong way, to do things. This is just how it is, and she is hoping to make the best of the experience.
“I think you just have to remember to laugh and to never take things too seriously,” Amy said. “It’s not going to make things better to be sad. You just have to find the humor when the ones you love misplaced something or think it’s the wrong day of the week … You just have to roll with it.”
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