Caregiving rocked Elizabeth's Miller's world in 2014. Actually, not just hers – but her whole family's lives were flipped upside down. As part of our "I am Your Employee Caregiver" series, we are honored to share her family's story, the impact on her busy daily life and her path to answers in this two part blog series.
Who am I?
My name is Elizabeth Miller. I live in Marietta, GA along with my two active teenagers and my husband of over 20 years. I work full-time as an IT Senior Product Manager for a large Atlanta-based company. In 2014, I was thrilled to be selected by my management team to work on a high profile business transformation project – a new revenue stream that was making our in-store experience available online. In the insular world of my own immediate home, things were looking pretty good.
Who else am I?
I didn’t know I was a ‘family caregiver’. I just saw myself as a daughter who was frankly losing her mind taking care of everyone but herself and feeling like no matter where I focused my attention - everyone was getting shortchanged. You know how mother birds look a bit crazy when feeding a hungry nest of babies? This is exactly how I felt!
We already had practice caring for family members. At this time we were a couple years into accepting my mother-in-law’s lung cancer diagnosis. My husband was her primary caregiver, as she lived alone. His only brother lived two time zones away.
My parents were retired, living in their oceanfront retirement dream home six hours away from any other family. Yet, chronic health conditions had prevented my parents from stepping on the beach in about 10 years. Both of my parents were morbidly obese, diabetic, and had sleep apnea. Dad also had Psoriasis and a heart condition. My mom also has COPD, edema, frequent urinary tract infections, and depression. I also have an older brother that has a developmental disability that lived with my parents at the time.
I was so ill-prepared to take on being a caregiver for housing, health, financial and emotional choices. We all were. I looked for books to help me. I listened and read a few on my trips back and forth between Georgia and Florida. I needed something more, yet I didn’t have it.
Ultimately, 2014 took a toll on my entire family. My husband lost his mom in December of that year. I lost my father that same August. We both lost a parent within 4 months of each other. Our kids lost two grandparents that year. The exhaustion and confusion of the entire process was a year of chronic chaos that we could not have predicted.
Mom, Dad, my Brother and Us All
The caregiving spiral started when my Mom was hospitalized in the Spring of 2014 with breathing complications that caused her to be intubated. I missed my son’s birthday and Easter with my family that year, while I was helping my parents in Florida and working remotely from a hospital room or taking calls from the waiting room or hospital gardens. While we felt like we may lose mom that time, she thankfully pulled through and after several weeks in a rehabilitation facility, she returned home. The strain of this situation prompted a health decline in my dad – who was the primary caregiver for both my mom and my brother. Soon after mom’s return, my dad was hospitalized for an infection. He battled for his life for a month before spending his last week in a hospice facility surrounded by family. His passing in August 2014 left a huge hole in our lives.
We had little time to grieve his death. We had to focus on what to do with mom and my brother, as neither could love on their own. While discussing dad’s memorial, writing his obituary, and handling cremation services, we were also frantically looking for the perfect assisted living facility near my two other brothers and me in the Atlanta area . This was not easy on me or my mom and we shed many tears about how this was the best option for her future care. We had also discussed and decided that my brother with the developmental disability would live with another of my brothers.
My mom moved into her first assisted living facility in August 2014. A little over a year later we tried another facility because it turned out the first one wasn’t the perfect one. A living arrangement for an elderly loved one is an enormous decision and requires a level of expertise around assisted living, which most of us don’t possess. We chose mom’s first living facility for these reasons, yet then moved her again for a variety of other reasons.
Life took another twist after mom moved near my brothers and me. She was extremely lonely, depressed, and her health conditions required the highest level of care. In my opinion, mom’s level of care was too intense for an Assisted Living Community, but not dire enough for a nursing facility. At first, I spent as much time with her as I could, but this wasn’t sustainable. I had to set boundaries. I also had a life to maintain.
Please check back tomorrow to read the rest of Elizabeth's story - how this impacted her daily life and how she used her family challenges to begin to help other caregivers like you and me.
Elizabeth Miller is a family caregiver and a Certified Caregiving Consultant (CCC). Her personal experiences caring for aging parents with chronic and terminal illnesses as well as caring for a sibling with developmental disabilities (while working full-time and raising teenagers) inspired her to create Happy Healthy Caregiver. Elizabeth is a national speaker, workshop leader, and global advocate for family caregivers. Through her consulting services and free resources, Elizabeth helps family caregivers integrate caregiving with their busy lives. She also leads the Atlanta Daughterhood Circle – a social support group for family caregivers and is the host of the Happy Healthy Caregiver Podcast on the Whole Care Network.