Northwest Herald

Oliver: Sometimes circumstances force family caregivers to get some needed help

We family caregivers can easily fall into the trap of thinking that we’re expected to handle everything. Or that we’re the only ones who can meet our loved one’s needs. After all, we’ve usually been on this journey from the beginning, and we’ve assumed responsibilities big and small as we went.

Since each care situation is unique to the family and the person requiring care, it’s easy to see that knowing exactly what to do can be tricky. Do we bring someone in to handle daily tasks when our person no longer can do them? Do we try to step in ourselves? Should we get our person into a day program before they need it, just in case they balk later down the line when they really do need it?

These, and so many other questions, face each caregiver. That’s, of course, on top of all the other decisions that must be made for ourselves.

Still, we do the best we can because we love our family members. For me, I’ve been a family caregiver twice now. My mother, who had dementia, came to live with us in October 2014. Then my beloved husband, Tony, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2015.

Even though it’s just Tony and me now, the journey has been a lot harder to navigate. When my mother moved in, she was already in her 80s. Tony, however, was diagnosed in his 50s.

Adding to the degree of difficulty in a caregiving situation is the possibility that we caregivers might ourselves need to be taken care of or that suddenly we’re not able to do what we need to do for our loved one.

That’s where I find myself now. I’ve recently had surgery to address a recurrence of breast cancer, and Tony and I are trying to navigate his care and mine.

I spent weeks trying to come up with a plan to keep Tony somewhat in his routine, as well as have some backup so that if anything happened, I’d be safe as well.

Happily, I have a wonderful group of friends who answered the bell and stepped up to provide whatever we need. Even when things changed unexpectedly, we’ve been able to adjust.

Not surprisingly, however, Tony has been the wild card in all of this.

When I had my first bout with breast cancer in 2019, Tony was able to understand what was going on. He also was far more independent than he is now, so I had to do a lot less for him. He could even take care of me to a certain extent.

These days, however, Tony is nonverbal and easily frustrated if we aren’t in our usual routine. As much as I talked about the surgery and what it would mean for him, I’m not sure how much he was able to grasp.

On the day of my surgery, I think he was a bit surprised to see so many people show up. Granted, some of them were going with me, but he had his own group to stay with him at home. This probably wasn’t too strange, since he’s been home with friends before.

What seemed to surprise and confuse him was when one of our friends didn’t leave the first night after surgery. It was mildly amusing to see him shake his shoe at her or make faces at her, as if to say, “Aren’t you going home yet?”

No doubt he also didn’t appreciate that I had someone to talk to and that he had to deal with so much more talking than he’s used to. It’s one thing to hear talking on the television; it’s something different when it’s a few feet away on the couch.

We’ve also had wonderful meals brought to us by our dear friends. That’s been something I’ve really appreciated. Of course, it’s also not the food that Tony is used to eating, so trying to make sure he knows what to do with these unfamiliar offerings has posed another challenge.

The worst has been trying to get him ready for the day. It’s also the part of the day when he gets fussy even for me. I’ve always been reluctant to hand that over to anyone else, but now I really don’t have much of a choice, at least for a little while.

One way or another, we’re getting it done. No doubt Tony will appreciate getting back into his normal routine soon.

Of course, maybe I’ll also be ready to hand over some of his care to someone else. At least a little bit.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.