by WENDY JOHNSTONE
Many of us expect we’ll need to care for a loved one at some point in life. We may think caregiving will take up a few months or years before life resumes as it was before.
This isn’t the norm for most people, however, and it certainly wasn’t the case for Barbra Hopkins.
Barbra’s journey as a family caregiver started when she was a child. As the eldest, Barbra witnessed caregiving as second nature since her grandparents lived in the family home, and her parents fostered over 80 children during the time she was growing up. She also played a supportive role to her mother, who provided 24/7 care to her first husband.
Last year, Barbra chose to take a step back from a successful, high-pressure career and be more actively involved with her now 90-year-old mother. Her mom lives in an independent living residence and, though largely independent, needs help getting to appointments, banking, grocery shopping and interpreting the digital world to allow her to remain in her current living situation and function with dignity.
Barbra’s mom relies on her to attend medical, legal and financial appointments, and take notes so she can review them to ensure her complete understanding.
Long-term caregiving isn’t uncommon. The biggest risk of marathon caring is “hitting a wall.” Being a successful marathon caregiver takes skill and endurance. It’s about knowing the course, running in a pack and keeping your eye on the prize.
For Barbra, knowing the course was understanding how the disease was impacting the person being cared for. As a caregiver, she needed to know the trajectory of the illness and what to expect along the way.
It’s also about skill development. With her dad, it was understanding dementia and how to handle the behavioural changes. Today, with her mom, it’s about being skilled in system navigation and being a supportive advocate.
Most marathoners will tell you that training or running the race alone is much more challenging. The same applies to caregiving. For Barbra, running in a pack is about finding support with friends, rejuvenating herself through activities, learning from other caregivers in similar situations and leaning on community organizations like Family Caregivers of BC.
The prize at the end of the race? Seeing her mom reconnect with her joy and finding purpose once again. After a long grieving period and feelings of loss, her mom’s life is gradually becoming more meaningful, even at 90 years old. She’s focused on her great-grandchildren, reconnecting with old friends and making social connections in her living environment.