There’s a type of family caregiver we don’t talk about very often but should: the remote caregiver. I know this firsthand, because I was a remote caregiving when my stepfather was nearing his end of life four years ago, trying to hold together my mother – in Baja Sur, Mexico – at the same time I was recovering from an ACL repair in Dallas, Texas. We had phone calls, face time, and email, but I still felt useless, like I wasn’t doing enough.
In truth me going to Mexico to be with my mother as her husband of thirty-two years was dying would have compromised my recovery and made her feel responsible for me – the last thing she needed.
Remote caregiving was often spotlighted as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in the early days when much of the world was in some sort of lockdown, but the reality is that those of us who don’t live near our parents are often faced with providing care and support from afar, and while it may seem easy from outside, it’s really very challenging in its own way.
We remote caregivers don’t have to deal with the intimate day-to-day tasks that can involve anything from driving Mom or Dad to medical appointments, to helping with their hygiene. We don’t have to plan our lives around making sure our loved ones take their meds and have their meals on time. Instead, we coordinate care from afar, vetting professional caregivers and confirming schedules, sometimes arranging for grocery delivery, or other times contacting our loved one’s friends or neighbors to bring over a casserole or visit for an afternoon.
So, how do you survive being a remote caregiver? Here are a few things that worked for me.
- Have a support system of your own. While my stepfather was nearing the end, my cousins checked in with me daily, my regular doctor knew what was going on, and called me for status updates every few days, and my local friends came over for board game nights and cooked dinner to give us a break.
- Consider therapy. Everyone needs a neutral third-party to talk to, and in my case that meant a psychologist. She never judged, just listened, and reminded me that my stepfather knew I’d be there if I could, and that guilt wouldn’t help me, mom, or him. She also reminded me of something my stepfather told me on one of our last calls – that if I messed up my rehab because of him, he would be angry.
- Take a pause. I know Cyndi mentions this a lot, but a pause is different for everyone. For me, that meant turning off the computer, and even turning off my phone, trusting that my husband would wake me if we got The Call.
- Recognize that we can each only do our best. For some of us, that may mean dropping everything and flying thousands of miles, but for many of us, it means just being an anchor, holding space for our loved ones, and being on call when that person needs an ear.
Many of us don’t live near our parents, but we’re very cognizant of the fact that as we are aging, they are as well. As remote caregivers we may not have the burden of day-to-day care, but we are still caregivers, even if sometimes we must do it by proxy. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to engage in mindful self-care and work to keep things in balance.
My stepfather died in July 2018, and my mother moved to Florida in 2020. I’m extremely fortunate that I was able to move close to her only two years later, but I was prepared to do as much as possible remotely, for as long as it was necessary.