Being there for the vulnerable moments, no matter how painful.

Finding balance is a tricky thing, especially as a caregiver. Just ask Denise Brown.

She has had to balance her desire to help her parents with their desire to remain independent. Denise also has had to balance her caregiving responsibilities with running a small business—and taking time for herself. Despite the challenges, Denise is grateful that she has been able to help her parents.

Denise's parents

Recognizing boundaries

Denise first realized her parents needed help when her father was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2004. Then her mom started having health struggles in 2015 after suffering a significant internal bleed.

Initially, Denise would visit her parents once a week and check-in with daily phone calls. She now visits them three or four times a week because their health has declined. Although Denise knows her parents need help, they don’t like to admit that they do. Her mom is especially resistant. “She likes to be as independent as possible,” Denise says.

I have found that if I am there on a regular basis and they are used to me helping, it takes out the stigma of them needing help.

If Denise were to call her parents and ask if she could stop by and help, her mom would say they didn’t need any help. Denise realized that the only way she could help was by just showing up. “I have found that if I am there on a regular basis and they are used to me helping, it takes out the stigma of them needing help,” she says.

That said, Denise finds ways to enable her parents to remain as independent as possible. For example, her mother has been struggling to write checks because she has arthritis and her hands are weak. To help, Denise set up online payments to limit how many checks her mom has to write. Denise also uses one of her parent’s credit cards to buy groceries for them so her mom doesn’t have to write a check to reimburse her. Then she gives her mom the receipt. “She checks to make sure I got the best deal and that I did buy what she wants,” Denise says. “She’s able to manage the accounting of it.”

Denise and her famliy

Being the team leader

Because Denise is closer physically and emotionally to her parents than her four siblings are, she’s taken on much of the caregiving responsibilities. She estimates that she spends at least 40 hours a month helping her parents with day-to-day tasks and devotes more time when there is a health crisis.

I’m happy to take the lead, but I’m not going to do all of it. As team leader, I delegate.

Denise says that taking care of her parents is a priority for her, but she doesn’t do it alone. “I play the role of team leader,” she says. “I’m happy to take that lead, but I’m not going to take all of it. As team leader, I delegate.”

For example, one of her brothers is an accountant. He prepares their parents’ tax returns and reviews their investments. Her other siblings pitch in when necessary, and Denise has a niece who visits her parents once a week.

Despite the support she gets, Denise knows she will have to spend more time with her parents as they decline. “I sometimes feel like, ‘Am I doing enough for them?’” she says. “No matter how much time I spend with them, the question in my head is, ‘Was it enough?’”

Making time for herself

Although Denise wants to spend enough time with her parents to have peace of mind that they’re getting the care and help they need, she hasn’t wanted to put her own life on hold. Over the years, she has remained committed to running the website site she created in 1996 -- After selling the website to Ohio’s Hospice in March 2020, Denise launched The Caregiving Years Training Academy, which provides training programs for family caregivers, former family caregivers, and anyone interested in transforming their personal caregiving experience. In October 2020, she debuted Healing Our Way, an online community that provides support for those who are grieving.

Her work allows her to help other caregivers. As a single woman, Denise also works to support herself. “I need to be responsible for my own financial obligations, she says.”Sometimes that does put you in a tough spot where you are out there representing your business while inside your heart is breaking.”

She also was in a tough spot in 2015 when both of her parents were critically ill. Denise needed a break but didn’t think that it was OK to take a vacation at that time. So she bought a pass to a community pool and would go there to float and relax. “It was the best break for me,” she says. That evolved into a regular routine of swimming laps. Now she walks daily and writes in a journal.

It’s important for caregivers not to feel guilty about taking time for themselves and living their own lives.

Denise says that it’s important for caregivers not to feel guilty about taking time for themselves and living their own lives. If you put your life on hold, you do a disservice to yourself and the person for whom you are caring. “It moves us into a feeling of sacrifice, which leads to resentment and bitterness,” she says. Then the people who are being cared for will feel like a burden.

Denise with her mom

Gaining peace of mind

Denise’s experience with her parents has helped her realize that she needs to be prepared for aging. She has given her brothers the power to make financial and medical decisions for her by naming them her financial and health care powers of attorney. She has discussed her end-of-life wishes with family members. And she’s thought about how she wants to receive care and who will provide it if she ever needs it.

I live my values by helping my parents.

Denise says that her caregiving experience also has given her peace of mind. “I could not live with myself if my parents were in decline and not receiving the help and support they need,” she says. “It’s about living my values. I live my values by helping my parents.”

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