What would you do for someone you love? What if it hurt like Hell and never offered any relief? What if every week you were providing assistance you had to question yourself, “Is this what my friend would want?” Well, I’m not alone and this story is nothing new. Many thousands of us suddenly become caretakers. A call to duty so to speak. The thing to remember is that this is not a sustainable path for most of us. There is no shame in choosing to re-work those terms either. This post is about how I slowly removed myself from my friend’s financial management and weekly affairs after he named me his POA, almost three years ago, after his stroke.
Granted, and thankfully, I was not alone. A group of us stood up. Even on the night of his event. It was my husband, oddly enough thanks to a post-it note with his number on it in my friend’s apartment, who got a call from a person who could not identify themselves beyond that they were a medical organization and that they wanted to know if he knew how to contact his family. And boy howdy, there’s a lot of cuckoo in that branch of the gene pool. We discovered just how private he was that night after piecing together a breadcrumb trail of memories of his other friend’s last names but ended up getting the word out over the course of a five-hour span.
We found out that he had had a massive hemorrhagic stroke. The recovery phase came after that. It was long and unsettling to watch the terrible kind of care he received from organizations that were being highly paid to provide him with the services he needed. One organization, The Whetstone, faced lawsuits leading to a patient’s death by neglect during the months we were watching over our friend while he was in their care. It’s the kind of stuff that can break the heart.
Five of his friends formed a fragile alliance in order to provide care for him as he progressed toward being functional again. His weekly dinner partner, and movie buddy, and I became financial POA’s, and then there were three medical POA’s. One of the medical POA’s burned out about a year ago and flat out resigned and two chose to remain absent and never touched his treatment plans sadly.
The author of “Being a Caretaker is Starting to Make Me Feel Like a Bad Person” made me start to solidify this post. Maybe as an echo. But not for the same reasons, and not with the same frustrations. Mine is more born out of personal failure, self-doubt, and suspicion that he would be in better hands with a professional.
I had made some efforts to try and get him to become more independent, motivated, and active. All of which failed. We’ve been through the stroke, his move to an assisted living complex, monthly billing automation, Medicare (and omg that was not a trivial process), complex medical billing, and, sadly, moments where I dropped the ball, and he had to pay the consequences. There were moments in all this where I knew I was not the right guy for the job. But I chose to be there because he needed someone.
Still, as with the above-cited article, there should be no shame or internalization of failure such as I was experiencing. To be honest, probably still processing in fact. There were more than a few beers and bottles of wine consumed, putting out those feelings believe me there.
So, I did what I knew how to do. I reached out. I asked for feedback on my feelings, and I put together a plan of action.
First thing I did was to consult the American Heart Associations stroke support group finder and provide that information to my friend and the group of folks I was engaged with. There are surprisingly a good number of those in the Columbus Ohio area. The other resource I reached out to was the Council on Aging. I got a social worker on the line who was super helpful and offered to create an open case for myself, my friend, and key contacts so that it could be an ongoing support resource. She pointed me to a financial management service whom I contacted and am meeting with after speaking with my friend and the other financial POA in order to transition him to full management by Meadowlark Financial. There is a fee for this of course, but it might be worth it in the long run to the tune of helping to create a long-term plan around my friend that will help him to live a life with just a little more joy in it. He missed OSU football season this year, well, because of me. I just could not justify the money on the tickets with Medicare costing well into several thousands of dollars this year alone.
Other resources were preferred by the Council on Aging. Namely for counseling and then activity centers in the area. Isolation and loneliness are huge issues for the elderly or chronically ill. Given, I have a career, and I am doing everything I can to pack in as much activity outside of work on my own right now, again, I can’t be that guy for my friend. No matter how much I love him.
I think I recently alluded to this when I was up in Marion talking to my mom and dad about it in fact. I didn’t dive into the whole thing but, I think they could tell I was in over my head and sinking quick. It felt like when I had to admit to them, and I had failed at something when I was younger. What I didn’t realize then, as I do now, that that’s part of the help process. It felt good to get that off my chest.
So yeah, while I never thought I’d have to deal with post-operative dementia from anesthesia on a stroke victim. That was a period when he was calling me on the phone to tell me he was in imminent danger of dying. Like over 25 times a day. Full tears, fears, and running out in the street naked crazy paces. That time and others took a heavy toll on me emotionally. No one wants to see a friend suffer. I suppose all we can do is what we can as we think of at the time and hope it’s enough.
In my case? It’s not enough. And that’s OK. The best place to go to when you find yourself at the end of this road. Admit it. Reach out. Look for alternatives and make a plan that, hopefully, benefits all parties involved.
Only time will tell what the future holds for my friend of over 30 years. But I think, pre-stroke, he’d appreciate and understand and support me here. I know he’d graciously accept all of our limitations and motivations and not want us to feel negatively as a result.
It’s funny, his circle of friends, well some of them, became my own for a time. And it was my ability to be vulnerable and admit failure that gave me the strength to take my hat out of the ring. This is for anyone who is hurting in a caretaker relationship who may be in a situation where they can change his or her role. Not everyone can, I get that. But, for some of us, all it takes is having the courage to reach out for help.