Lessons Learned from Being a Caregiver for My Grandma

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Irina's grandmother, Grunya
Irina’s grandmother, Grunya

Irina Jordan was born and raised in Russia and moved to the US when she was 22 years old. She’s the owner of Artisurn—online marketplace of handcrafted cremation urns, jewelry and keepsakes. Connector. Optimist. Avid reader.

My paternal grandmother, Grunya, had a stroke which paralyzed the left half of her body when she was 59 years old. She spent her entire life living in a village in the far east area of Russia raising her own chickens, milking her own cows, and planting her own fruits and vegetables. After her stroke, she had to leave her rural life behind and move in with us.

We lived in Khabarovsk, a big city by Amur River on the east side of Russia. I was 10 years old. In Russia, it’s expected children take care of their aging parents and not place them in any kind of assisted living facilities.

I became my mother’s helper: helping feed my grandma, get her around, make her bed, do her laundry and monitor her medications. My grandma lived with us for 5 years until she died at the age of 64.

As a child, I was resentful of her from time to time and even sometimes impatient with her; it takes an emotional and physical toll to have someone dependent on you, especially if you’re still a child. I had an active academic and social life with many school and extracurricular activities. It was especially taxing towards the end of her life when she was losing her appetite and confined to bed.

Looking back, I realize I had caregiver burnout and didn’t have resources or—other than my parents, who were in it with me—a support network to provide some assistance or talk things over. Based on my and my family’s experience, I highly recommend seeking out support groups and available local resources as soon as you become a caregiver for a family member or friend, and be mindful not to place a lot of burden on your young children as you take on the additional responsibility.

It’s important to remember it isn’t selfish to focus on your own needs and desires when you’re taking care of someone dear to you. You’re responsible for taking care of yourself too. I recommend learning and practicing stress-reducing techniques like meditation or deep breathing. It’s essential to get proper nutrition, sleep and exercise when taking care of someone. Don’t neglect your own health; see your physician regularly and not as an afterthought. Seek out counseling and support groups and accept help from others. Find and participate in activities you enjoy doing. You need to have a life outside of your caregiving situation. Being a caregiver isn’t the only thing that defines who you are.

Most importantly, be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give. Set clear limits and communicate those limits to doctors, family members, and other people involved. Live your own life to the fullest and don’t feel guilty about it!

Looking back at my caregiving experience, I can say the positives outweighed the negatives. I felt a sense of accomplishment and growing independence of being able to take care of my grandmother. I felt a sense of belonging to my family and learned to appreciate the present. Lastly, and most importantly, I was able to take care of someone I loved and show my compassion where it mattered the most.

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