Sharon Z. Lena, RN is a long distance caregiver. She lives in Florida and her parents live in Connecticut. Her father just turned 95 and suffers from senile dementia as a result of cardiac surgery years ago. Her mother is 88 and suffers from arthritis. Sharon’s mom is the full time caregiver for her father. They have been married for 66 years and live up to the vows they made to each other every day.
Sharon has been a nurse for over 30 years but as the daughter of aging parent’s she is constantly striving to find balance between her roles as a daughter and a nurse. This candid interview was conducted to offer a glimpse into Sharon’s world and to be a source of comfort to long distance family caregivers.
What is the hardest part about being a long distance caregiver?
Sharon: Dealing with the frustration and guilt that I have for being so far away in case of an emergency. Like any other daughter, I want my parents to move closer to me. Not just because I’m here but because as a nurse, I believe they have the best opportunity to get the help they need here. Because of my background I know the toll that being a full time caregiver takes on people. I don’t want my mother’s health to decline because she is carrying the burden of caring for my father alone on a daily basis.
How do you balance being a daughter and a nurse when caring for your parents?
Sharon: Being a daughter is a part of who I am and so is being a nurse. There are times when I act as a daughter and use love to intervene and suggest a certain course of action for my parents. But sometimes I have to put on my nurse hat because my parents have a level of respect for me as a nurse. When my parents think of me as a nurse they are much more accepting of my advice whether it’s about medications, nutrition or exercise. The most difficult thing is balancing both of these roles, supporting my parents in their desire for independence but sharing my professional opinions of what is best for them.
How does your profession (being a nurse) affect how you care for your parents?
Sharon: As a daughter and a nurse I sometimes have to step back and just be a nurse when it comes to my parent’s well-being. Thankfully, my brother, sister and I communicate and work things out with each other. However, because of my profession and experience I am looked at as the one to spear head the plan of “what’s next” for my parent’s. When a crisis situation comes up it’s me that needs to suggest solutions and have a plan.
What is your advice for other long-distance family caregivers?
Sharon: Don’t delay. Explore the options you have for your family and educate yourself on the resources available to you, find what works with your family’s needs.
“Love your parents, we are so busy growing up we often forget they are also growing old.”- Unknown