The Heart of a Caregiver

Senior Citizen Care, In Home Care Minneapolis, Private Pay Home Care

Karen Stevens, who has been caregiving with Right at Home for over 10 years

“Alice” had never before had homemaking help in her tiny apartment.  A sweet, frail woman of 89, she quickly bonded with her at-home caregiver, Judy.  Everybody bonds with Judy, but Alice took it one step further.  One day, Alice told Judy, “I wish you could just stay here and live with me.”

Judy looked around.  “But Alice,” she said, “where would I sleep?  You only have one bed.”

“That’s okay,” Alice told her.  “I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Alice isn’t the only one out there getting a little help at home from the Judys of the world.  According to the National Family Caregivers Association, more than 65 million people—approximately 30% of the U.S. population—provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year.  Those caregivers spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved ones.

In honor of all those caregivers, November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to thank, support, educate, and empower family caregivers—whether they are family caregivers or caregivers provided through home care companies.

Many of those in need of care—including the elderly—would have difficulty remaining safely in their homes without the support of their relatives and caregivers. The NFCA began to honor family caregivers in 1994 to draw attention to the many challenges facing caregivers, advocate for stronger public policy to address family caregiving issues, and raise awareness about community programs that support caregivers.

Whether caring for a parent, relative, or friend, our nation’s caregivers selflessly devote their time and energy to provide for the health and well-being of a beloved family member.

At Right at Home Twin Cities, we’ve been very fortunate to have two of the three national RightCare Caregiver of the Year Award Winners among our caregiver ranks—Karen Stevens (2009) and Greg Schaffner (2010).  In honor of the people who care for those who could not otherwise look after themselves, we present the text to Greg’s RightCare acceptance speech, which has offered inspiration to caregivers throughout the country.


Thank you for this wonderful award.  I accept on behalf of a thousand other caregivers who could just as easily be up here instead of me, good people who do good work day in and day out with no thought of an award such as this.

I suspect that I am a little different from most caregivers in a few ways: one is the beard, another is that I primarily take care of men, and I primarily offer companionship as opposed to housekeeping or medical chores.  My life is like the book Tuesdays with Morrie, except that in my case:

I spend Tuesdays with Clyde, a born again son of a Kentucky moonshiner and coal miner.

I spend Wednesdays with Roger, a former navy pilot who flew dive bombers off aircraft carriers and then had a long career in medicine . . . .

I spend Fridays with Bill, a Jehovah’s Witness, a widower, and one of the funniest and most interesting men I’ve ever met.

These wonderful men widen my world.  They have experiences I don’t have and opinions I don’t always share.  They have attitudes that inspire me, and together, they have taken away some of the deepest fears I have: poverty, stroke, memory loss, loneliness.

This kind of rich opportunity doesn’t happen without a structure, and I am lucky beyond measure to be part of the Right at Home team assembled by Paul and Bob.  I depend on them.  They depend on me.

I am especially grateful for the two wonderful social workers on staff.  The boundaries between caregivers and clients can be tricky.  There aren’t black and white answers.  Often, they will tell me, “Well, you might try this . . .”  And usually what they suggest works.  In one case, I needed to report a situation of possible neglect to the authorities.  I didn’t want to, but it was the right thing to do.  And when the family got angry, guess who they took it out on?  Not me.  The social worker.  But you know what?  In the final analysis, the Right at Home team took care of a client who needed, and subsequently received, 24-hour care.

That’s why I say that I depend on them just as they depend on me.  We’re just one big co-dependent family.

I’d like to conclude with a paraphrase of a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me a channel of thy care.  Where there is loneliness, let me bring company.  Where there is regret, let me bring hope.  Where there is sadness; cheerfulness.  Where there is paranoia, let me bring calm.  Where there is confusion, let me bring clarity.  Help me to seek to serve rather than be served.  And to offer care to others rather than seek care from them;  For it is in caring that we fulfill your will for us.  Amen.


If there is or was a cherished family caregiver helping your parents, we’d love to hear the story.  Please share below.

November 8, 2011

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