Profiles in caring: Learning the meaning of family
Profiles in caring:
Caregivers face a challenging role
Health and Wellness Director Melissa Bray knows how hard it is to be a caregiver and offers the same bit of advice to most of the caregivers she comes in contact at Casey’s Pond senior living center.
“I think the biggest piece of advice for families is that you have to make sure that you are not only caring for your loved one, but also yourself,” Bray said. “You can’t be a good caregiver without caring for yourself first.”
In her role at Casey's Pond, she sees a lot of caregivers and she has observed that the approach families take to long-term care is nearly as varied as the people the Steamboat Springs facility serves.
“I think every family handles it a little bit differently … I think it is good to make sure you have the support system set up early on, so that you have the opportunity to take breaks and prevent yourself from getting burnt out," Bray said. "It is also important that the person you are caring for has someone else that they can trust.”
She said Casey’s Pond offers independent living apartments, assisted living, memory care and complete care and rehabilitation at the Doak Walker House.
In addition, the facility is a resource for families caring for a loved one at home, offering stays stretching from just a couple of hours to those who live at the facility year round.
Lindsey Simbeye, Casey's Pond's marketing and sales director, said the staff at Casey’s Pond wants to be a resource for those in long-term care situations and strives to give caregivers information and services that make caring for a loved one as easy as possible.
“A lot of times what we see with families is that the wife or husband feels like it has to be on their shoulders alone because they are the significant other,” Simbeye said. “They sometimes forget that they have children, or they have sisters and brothers, or they have that extended family and grandchildren that can all come in and support and help.”
Simbeye said she understands that long-term care is a personal decision and one that is different for every family.
But both women agree that it is important to have a strategy early on and to make sure that families can ease the stress, not only on the one being cared for but on the one who is doing the caring.
Family is everything to Steamboat Springs resident Lisa VanHorne.
“I always kind of planned on having her up here,” she said of moving her mother, Toni Erwin, into her Steamboat Springs home. “It was never talked about … but now, I can’t imagine her not being here.”
Lisa’s duplex is packed to capacity with family and love. Her mother moved into the house in September 2015, and about the same time, Lisa’s 33-year-old daughter, Jessica, also returned home. Lisa’s other daughter Sara and her son also live in the home making it four generations under the same roof.
“Everything just sort of worked out,” Lisa said of the living arrangement. “I wouldn’t know what to do without her (my mother), and I wouldn’t know what to do without her (Jessica). I love them both.”
Before moving to Steamboat, Toni lived in Grand Junction with her husband. She continued to live in the home where she had raised Lisa and her three brothers after his death in 2005.
“It’s always been a family effort for us,” Lisa said.
Her older brother, Glenn Erwin, moved from California to Grand Junction in 2003 to care for his father. He returned to the West Coast after his father’s death but eventually moved back to support Toni and take care of needed maintenance on his parents’ four-bedroom home, which included two acres of land.
“My mother is fiercely independent,” Lisa said. “She always had been and still is.”
Lisa’s brother got a teaching job in Grand Junction, a move that allowed him to live with his mother and get the home back in shape.
But Toni was starting to have health issues of her own. She was losing her sight to macular degeneration, and her mobility and balance were impacted by drop foot after she had back surgery. Lisa said her brother had to work, but her mother also needed someone nearby, even if she didn’t know it.
One day, Lisa’s brother returned home after work to find Toni on the floor. She had fallen after he left in the morning and spent nine hours on the floor. Toni had an emergency response button but chose not to push it, because she didn’t want to bother anyone.
The incident convinced the family it was time for full-time care, and Lisa spoke up.
“My brother had already done so much for my dad, and now, it was our turn,” Lisa said.
‘“I asked her if she wanted to go to a nursing home, or if she wanted to come to Steamboat,” Lisa said. “She said she wanted to come here.”
The move came with its own list of challenges. Lisa and her husband both had full-time jobs, but fortunately for them, her daughter Jessica offered her services.
“She’s our caregiver,” Lisa said. “We could not do this without her. She was not working at the time, and it all worked out. It was meant to be.”
Jessica now runs the show when it comes to Toni’s daily routine. Printouts with to-do boxes and lots of checks track Millie’s exercise, diet, water and medications. Jessica takes her grandmother to doctors appointments and anywhere else she needs to be. Once a month, the pair pile into the car and travel to Vail for a regular eye appointment.
“I’ve gotten used to things that I never thought that I would,” Jessica said, “like being responsible for someone else and making sure that all her needs are met.”
Jessica said she has had to learn to tell her grandmother “no.”
“I still remember her cooking and caring for me,” Jessica said. “Now, the roles have been reversed, and it’s taken a little getting used to.”
Caring for her “Me-Maw” is an opportunity Jessica treasures, and she is making the most of it.
“We are definitely closer than we were before,” Jessica said. “We spend three hours each month in the car traveling to appointments, and we use that time to talk. Sometimes we talk about the pretty things we see along the drive, but sometimes, we talk about other things. I’ve been able to ask her about her youth, about the farm she grew up on and what it was like to live in a family with 11 kids.”
Jessica said she has learned that caring isn’t always easy. She admits there are days when she is tired, days when she is frustrated and days when she just wants to throw in the towel. But she added she wouldn’t trade this time for anything, and it has taught her a lesson she will never forget — family is truly everything.
“This is just something that we do. I don’t look at it as being out of the ordinary — it’s just life,” Lisa said.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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