I don’t know if anyone is really prepared for family caregiving — it all happens so suddenly,” says Terri Jorgensen of Maui. She became a family caregiver in 2016, when Maui Memorial Hospital discharged her 101-year-old Grandma. Two years later, Terri heads a family of five generations, works full time and manages two households — one with five homecare aides providing care for Grandma and Terri’s 83-year-old mother.
“Learning what kind of care is required is easy, but finding ways to provide it is very difficult. Since I have no bedside skills, I knew right away that I needed help. I am an outgoing sales professional, so servicing my clients and keeping in touch with the outside world makes me happy and healthy. Finding a balance among Mom’s, Grandma’s and my own needs was critical,” she says.
Terri’s Grandma was living independently in Wailuku when she suddenly became ill. She returned from the hospital disabled and bedridden, so Terri began to care for her. A social worker helped her find in-home caregivers to help Grandma.
In 2017, Terri’s dad, who was suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away on Moloka‘i. Her mom went into a deep depression. Terri brought her mother to Maui to recover at Grandma’s house, but soon it became clear that her condition was not going to improve.
Terri’s daughter also had come from O‘ahu to live with Terri after the birth of her baby. With so many loved ones to care for, Terri faced the financial and logistical issues of managing two households and a large team of homecare and service providers.
“Caregiving is a group activity; one family caregiver cannot do it alone. Maui County services for elderly and disabled persons are a very big help, but managing all the services, appointments and care duty for my family is a huge job. I do the management part, and one of our aides schedules all shifts. We now have five aides covering days and weekend nights. I cover weekday nights but take respite on the weekends.
“When Grandma got sick, a lot of people told me to take care of myself, but I didn’t get it. I wore myself out because I didn’t know what decisions to make, or where to get good information and assistance. There wasn’t enough time in the day to care for Grandma and Mom’s needs and maintain my strength. My auntie, who lives across the street, was good support and encouraged me to reach out for help. What I tell other caregivers now, is to reach out soon. Carefully assess your own physical and emotional needs — because if you get worn down or sick, your loved ones will suffer. My version of balance is to be a good businesswoman, and manage caregiving like a very important business project. This is my talent, and comfort zone. Family caregivers can find a personal balance that preserves who they are, and uses their talents.
“Some days are very hard, but caregiving can be its own joyful reward. It makes me happy to know that I can provide care and do what is good for everyone. I am creatively carrying out my kuleana of caregiving, and my family is safe.”
TERRI JORGENSEN, Independent Sales Rep