Anna is 49 years old. She is cheerful, beautiful, and her elderly mother believes Anna is a living angel.
Each morning, Anna wakes at 5 A.M. to make the coffee. While the coffee perks, she visits her mother’s bedroom. “Wakey wakey!” she says, breezing into the room.
Next Anna throws open the curtains and smiles. Then she helps her mother out of a hospital bed. Her mother is not able to walk due to hip issues.
Anna lifts her mother, then carries her into the shower using brute strength. She positions her mother in a specialized shower seat, undresses her, bathes her from head to heel, then brushes her teeth.
“Anna is my lifeline,” Anna’s mother tells me. “My daughter is an angel.”
After the bath, Anna lifts her mother into a wheelchair. She then dresses her mother, fixes her hair, administers medication, and kisses her mother’s face. “I love you Mom,” Anna reminds her mother, just in case her mother needs to hear this.
Then, Anna parks her mother near the television and starts breakfast. Later, Anna doles out more meds, then clips her mother’s toenails, carries her to the bathroom, or pays her mothers bills.
By then, it’s about noon. A friend usually comes to sit with Anna’s mother while Anna goes to work.
Oh, yeah. By the way, Anna works full time.
After her long shift, she comes back to the apartment, and her night has just begun. Before she changes out of work attire, Anna cooks supper, then cleans the house. The night ends when she carries her mother into the bedroom. There, she dresses her mother in a nightgown, gives more meds, and reads to her.
“Sometimes Anna falls asleep beside me,” her mother says. “She’s usually very exhausted after all that lifting.”
The next morning, Anna does it all again.
Carl, in Atlanta, does the same thing with his dad. Carl bathes his father, feeds him, gives meds, and makes sure his father is comfortable.
Carl’s father is not a small man, he weighs about 180 pounds and is over six foot tall. Carl admits that lifting his father into the bathroom, the shower, or into bed is challenging, but he’d have it no other way.
Because when anyone asks why Carl cares for his father instead of hiring professional help, Carl always answers: “He’s my dad.”
The job of the American Caregiver is overlooked and largely unrecognized. These people fly under the radar, they rarely receive any attention, and you’d be hard pressed to get them to find anything exceptional in what they do.
But the demands upon them are numerous and overwhelming. And somehow these tireless saints always get the job done.
Currently, there are 43.5 million people in the U.S. functioning as caregivers to an adult, parent, or child. Roughly 75 percent of these caregivers are female, but hordes of males join the ranks each year.
What’s it like to take care of a loved one? I can’t answer that, but here are some facts:
On average, a caregiver spends the equivalent of 384 hours each month on food preparation, housekeeping, laundry, transportation, and giving medication. This figures into 16 days every month. Which is more than half of each year.
And this is only the beginning. Caregivers spend another 144 monthly hours feeding, dressing, grooming, walking, and bathing their loved one.
Most caregivers admit they are sleep deprived. Almost all get injured. Thirty-nine percent of caregivers will quit their day jobs, which is why most caregivers are hurting for cash. It’s hard to make a living and be an angel at the same time.
Also, caregivers are notoriously sick because their immune systems are weary, malnourished, and weakened from long hours. Many caregivers report forgetting to bathe, eat regularly, or take care of their personal lives.
Older caregivers have a 63 percent higher risk of dying early. One study shows that 70 percent of caregivers over age 70 will die before their patient.
If all this sounds gloomy to you, you’re looking at it wrong. Because here’s the thing. Most caregivers will tell you that caregiving is the greatest privilege of their life.
This morning, for instance, I interviewed a handful of caregivers for this column and each person made remarks like: “I feel so lucky to be able to do this for Mom.”
Or: “Yeah it’s hard, but these are the best years of my life with my father.”
Or: “I believe I was created for this.”
Tomorrow morning, bright and early, Anna’s alarm clock will sound and she will stagger into the kitchen to make strong coffee. Her long day will go forward as usual. Her smile will be huge. Her mood will be light.
Anna’s mother doesn’t know how her daughter does it. The old woman wonders if anyone will ever notice her child’s hard work, or if anyone will realize how much Anna does.
Her mother also wonders whether Anna will ever get married, or have a family of her own. Sometimes Anna’s mother feels guilty and selfish for keeping Anna so close.
But all sad feelings are extinguished the moment Anna enters the bedroom. For Anna is pure joy.
Anna kisses her mother’s wrinkled face, and the whole world glows like Christmas. She throws open the curtains and says, “Isn’t it a great day, Mom?” Anna says this every morning without fail.
And Anna’s mother always replies, “What would I do without you, Anna? You’re my angel. My beautiful angel.”
Usually, Anna laughs at this. Then she rolls her sleeves, wraps her arms around her mother’s torso, and using her incredible strength, she carries her.
Which is, of course, what all angels do.
Happy National Caregivers Day.
Christina - February 19, 2021 7:05 am
When joy and hard labor coexist in the lives of these caregivers, it is a wonder and miracle to behold!
Debbie g - February 19, 2021 8:36 am
Our caregivers are truly angels. Many thanks to all
Gayle - February 19, 2021 9:48 am
Thank you for the acknowledgement. I have been the primary caregiver of my son for the past 7 years. He was in an auto accident his freshman year of college and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. He is still in a minimal state of consciousness. Moms don’t forfeit their role just because their children reach adulthood. If our child needs us we are there. That’s just what moms do.
Michael Lum - February 21, 2021 2:24 am
May God give you strength, courage and good health as you live out the love of Christ for your son. What a blessing you are!
Bobbie - February 19, 2021 9:54 am
Beautiful!! God bless them. Those who have an Anna or a Carl are truly blessed. They will surely get extra stars in their crowns ❤️ .
Thank you Sean as always….I’m thinking you too may have an extra star or two for your ability to find the best in people and sharing their stories with us.
God bless you.
Aileen H Gay - February 19, 2021 12:42 pm
God bless each one…whether their act is great or small…🥰🙏🏻🥰
Becky Kaufman - February 19, 2021 12:50 pm
Bless the caregivers, and the cared for. How lucky they are to have had throughout their lives to find love and joy in the present situation.
MR - February 19, 2021 12:52 pm
Thanks, Sean. Being a caregiver is no easy task. But, as you said, those of us who do it, we know we were made for it.
Barb - February 19, 2021 12:57 pm
As round-the-clock caregiver for my beloved husband, yes I was tired and on edge all the time, sometimes too weary to smile when I should have, too distracted by the responsibility to appreciate the precious and fading time. But his beautiful brown eyes, his smiles, his genuine love and appreciation, his constant “thank you, honey” made the love we shared become stronger and more beautiful with every passing day. Caregiving was hard. Caregiving was a blessing. Caregiving made me a better person.
Kate - February 19, 2021 1:06 pm
My aunt is 88 and has been taking care of my uncle who is 94 this Sunday for the past 4 years as he has Alzhiemer’s. She is determined to keep him at home. We fear we will lose her first as she is frail and exhausted, but determined. Thank you for mentioning the caregivers. They are amazing.
johnsteinbach - February 19, 2021 1:28 pm
Thanks, Sean. I never knew about National Caregivers Day; and I never considered myself an angel. But I knew about what many caregivers experience: the sleep deprivation, compromised immune system (3 days in the hospital with cellulitis), the injuries (hernia). Yet I kept my wife home as long as I could, because that’s what you do for family. Amen.
Jane - February 19, 2021 1:45 pm
I was privileged to take care of my mom, while working a full time job, for 10 years as she declined physically and mentally. I could write volumes about those years. I would do it all again. By the time she passed away I had pretty much done my grieving. I don’t regret a minute of it. People said, “ I don’t know how you do it!” My answer always was, “You just do. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.” Thanks for honoring those who still carry on this labor of love.
Dee Thompson - February 19, 2021 1:45 pm
Thanks for your beautiful tribute, Sean. I was a caregiver for my mom for years, until she died last summer, age 86. It was an incredibly hard role. There were days I was so exhausted I could barely function. Yet, I miss her terribly now. I cry all the time, still, 8 months later. I am having to sell my house now and downsize, but I have no regrets. I kept Mom out of a nursing home. I kept my promise to my dying father, to take care of her. That’s what families do, they take care of each other. My son also helped me a lot and although he spent his early years in an orphanage, before I adopted him, he now knows what a loving family is, and thanks be to God for that. [you can read more about my amazing mom here: https://deescribbler.typepad.com/my_weblog/2021/01/remembering-elva.html%5D
Dianne - February 19, 2021 2:15 pm
Sean, thank you for this wonderful column today. These caregivers are truly not recognized enough for everything they do for their family member(s). Thank you for putting the spotlight on them today!
Bob E - February 19, 2021 2:44 pm
Been there…it’s all well worth it.
Where there’s a need fill it.
Your time of need may come.
God bless all the caregivers every day including today.
Katy Maddox - February 19, 2021 2:46 pm
Sean, what a poignant and timely piece…I read you each morning and adore your writing. I have just finished a 7 year time of being the caregiver for my 88 year old mom. She passed into heaven on February 4th. During the last month, my husband battled a severe case of CoVid and the words of one person in your piece resonated for me, “I was created for this”. Never have I learned so much from an experience and I pray every human being can share in what it means to be “poured out”. I am keeping my ears & eyes open for my next “job assignment” and remain your number one fan❤️
Shelton A. - February 19, 2021 3:09 pm
God bless all the caregivers and give them the strength to do all they must do.
DR Aday - February 19, 2021 3:23 pm
I am reminded of the great TV commercial with the rough looking biker talking about caregivers. Best commercial of its kind! Semper Fi, Sean!!
Connie Spencer - February 19, 2021 3:28 pm
I am so weary each day as a caregiver but I know that it is the right thing to do for my family. I pray each day for God to keep me healthy so that I can continue helping others.
Jan - February 19, 2021 3:46 pm
Jane - February 19, 2021 5:00 pm
My husband and I were caregivers for our moms. It was a privilege and a joy.
Norbert Sprunger - February 19, 2021 5:16 pm
Been there, done that…Grandfather, father, Mother……….
Linda Moon - February 19, 2021 5:42 pm
Anna IS an angel, and so is Carl. I bet Jamie Dietrich is one, too, when Mother Mary needs her. “What would I do without you?” is my favorite question for one of my guys in Atlanta. He’s not a caregiver, but he cares for my soul. Thank you for reminding us about those who care and give so much to others!
Betty - February 19, 2021 6:49 pm
My parents had the same caregiver for 3 years. She lived with them, rarely leaving their home, ordering groceries and supplies. A close friend was good enough to run errands and come over to visit the caregiver so she didn’t go stir-crazy. My mom had Alzheimer’s and it was difficult to take her out except for the most necessary appointments. Family members rarely visited and only stayed a short time, although one sister was good enough to bake and cook meals for the little family. The caregiver got up at night whenever there was a bad dream or pain from an injury, she adjusted her bedtime so that she was always up before her mom and went to bed afterwards, even if it meant dozing on the couch in the den until her mother felt sleepy late at night. She cooked almost every night , making the food loved by her parents, knowing it wasn’t particularly healthy, but understanding that they should eat happy food at ninety and not be over consumed with cholesterol and fat. While there were plenty of vegetables, she also mashed potatoes, made cornbread, fixed roasts with gravy, and generally tried to satisfy every craving her parents had. It was a joyous time for her, living with her parents and relating on a new level as equals. She learned more about their childhoods, the way they interacted with their families and the hopes and dreams they’d had throughout their lives. It was the happiest time of her adult life. That caregiver was me.
All Cato - February 19, 2021 7:03 pm
I shared this blog with friends who have been, who are and who will be caregivers. Trials and tribulations do abound but NEVER forget the BLESSINGS. Sometimes hard to see them but they are there. Thank you for this acknowledgement of caregivers.
Jenny Young - February 19, 2021 7:10 pm
I wish there was some way to share their secrets….I cared for my mother for the last 7 yrs of her life & though I am very glad I did it I was not always a joy to be around. It takes a super human strength & I never learned how to do it joyfully all the time.
James L Richardson - February 19, 2021 7:55 pm
Blessed are the card givers sent from God🙏
Bill - February 19, 2021 8:31 pm
Caregivers are a gift from God. What a blessing they are.
Donia - February 19, 2021 11:33 pm
My sister was the angel in our family for four years, caring day in and day out for our dear Mother after her stroke. I came from out of town for weekends, so the majority of care rested on my sister. She dressed Mother, changed her diapers, bathed her, and acted as her nurse. Not only did she care for our Mother, but at the same time she was raising four grandchildren age 2 to 6. My sister died five years ago from brain cancer. I spoke at her funeral to make sure everyone knew how special she was and all that she did. Not one time did she complain or show any regret. There ARE angels among us, and many of them are caregivers.
Ann - February 20, 2021 12:44 am
Sean, thank you so much for this column. I was my parents caregiver for about the last 15 years of their lives. There is no greater joy than being able to do this and no harder job. But, it is a privilege. Because, in many cases the job you do enables you to have your parents longer and love them better……and that is a privilege above all.
Kathie J Kerr - February 20, 2021 12:47 am
I’m going to take a different direction here. My children know if I ever get to the point I can not take care of myself, I want them to be find a nursing home for me. I have lived my life; they should have the same opportunity.
Julie - February 20, 2021 3:16 am
Yes, indeed it is a privilege to be a caregiver. The rewards are great, but the best one is the closeness and love you share when the end draws near. You know you did all you could, with no regrets. In my case, I did my best for the Mother who did her best for me…the Circle of Life…Beautiful.
Nancy - February 20, 2021 7:31 am
caregiversunite.org - February 20, 2021 3:59 pm
Thanks for recognizing the tireless and blessed work of caregivers. Caring for my mother and aunt made my life seem important. While exhausting, challenging, and frustrating, they were some of my best years of my life.
Anne Arthur - February 20, 2021 8:08 pm
Yes, for me too, caring for my mom was the best time of my life. Challenging for sure, but I wouldn’t have wanted it otherwise. Happy caregivers day to every person who cares for their loved ones. God bless you all.
Caricia - February 20, 2021 8:22 pm
All of these comments and affirmations and thanks are wonderful to those who receive them, well deserved, however I have a very dear friend who has been doing all of the above and more for her mother but has never been appreciated by her nor given a kind word or a thank you!!!
I ask prayers for her, God knows who she is, that God will give her strength to continue giving the care her mother needs and to receive the peace and acceptance that this is what God wants her to do as her mother’ Caregiver.
I know that God sees her and loves her and will reward her in due time with abundant blessings in every area of her life!!
I love 💕 you dear friend!!!!!
Bob Brenner - February 21, 2021 4:30 pm
God bless these angels and give them the inner strength they need each day. Peace to each caregiver everywhere! Truly Angels Among Us…😇❤
Patricia Couch - February 21, 2021 9:52 pm
Wow, truly Angles for sure. God provides when his believers need help.