The Long Distance Caregiver
By Terri Murphy
Being a long distance caregiver has a unique set of problems. The emotional drain of being too far from your loved one to provide any direct care can be devastating. It is hard to describe the fear that envelops you when the phone rings, hoping that it is not yet another crisis with a parent. It is something that you learn to live with every day. However, you are never ready for that call. It is not unusual to feel guilt, anger, frustrations, and isolation when dealing with a long distance caregiving situation. Every family caregiver experiences these emotions at some time or another.
As a long distance caregiver, you will struggle with the guilt of not being there all of the time. Or not being able to ensure that proper care is provided on a regular basis. While you may learn to deal with these issues, you may never get completely comfortable with it. You can feel very isolated when you hear about a change after the fact, and too late to be of any help. This can lead to a sense of being a fragmented part of the family. Eventually it seems easier to just not offer up any advice or help at all. Sometimes the primary caregiver can make it seem like your advice is not practical at all because “you aren’t here and how would you know what mom or dad need?” And, in time this fragmentation can and often does lead to anger, with siblings, which is the last thing that should happen. This is a time when families need to bond closer together and share both the good as well as the bad.
The primary caregiver needs to look at their sibling’s long distance challenges and understand that while they can’t be here, it does not diminish the concern that they may have for their loved one. There are many things that the long distance caregiver can do to help ensure that proper care is provided to their loved one. You have the opportunity to offer some much needed respite to your sibling. It may be difficult, but arrange for regular visits so that the primary caregiver has a break. The Family Friendly Leave Act, which was signed by President Clinton, allows you to be able to get time off work for just such things. A week or two several times a year will be a wonderful gift to your sibling, and allow you to be an active member of the “care team”.
The primary caregiver has an obligation as well. They need to keep the lines of communication open with those family members away from home. Offer regular updates on your loved ones condition and include them as much as possible in the decision making process. When communicating with your loved ones’ doctor, include the long distance family member, by initiating a conference call. Remember that you do not have to carry the entire load, just letting other family know that their input is needed is essential. It will go a long way to reducing the fear of that late night telephone call.