Being a caregiver is a stress-filled full time job, Michael Stalter offers help on how to manage it all.
When my wife, Mary, was diagnosed with breast cancer, my world was turned upside down. The nearly perfect life we were building together changed drastically, instantly. I did as much as I could to keep some semblance of order in our home while Mary was in treatment.
The husband/caregiver takes on additional responsibilities when his wife is sick with cancer. Managing your wife’s share of the household responsibilities on top of your own can be daunting without a plan. Throw into the mix the addition of asking for help and coordinating volunteers, and you have a full-time-and-a-half job before leaving home to go to work.
In my work life, I was Chief Fiscal Officer for a large prison, so I was able to be matter-of-fact managing our household business when Mary couldn’t do her share. Some of the pointers I’m about to share are directly from my experience, and some were shared with me after the fact by a friend who has a good deal of experience as a primary caregiver for hospice patients.
Most of these tips can be adapted and applied to situations related to caregiving for any family member, including your parents. The same is true if you relieve the primary caregiver to an extended family or community member.
There are two critical components to successful household management when you are caregiver to your wife when she has a serious illness:
- You can’t do it all, so don’t try: Delegate what can be done by others. This is one place where matter-of-fact business sense can benefit us as a husband-caregiver. With your wife, while she is able, list all tasks that can be delegated such as laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation, pharmacy runs, house cleaning, and vehicle maintenance.
- Use an otherwise blank calendar to manage date-time specific tasks or events. Keep this list and calendar posted near your home land line or communication board for easy access by all household members and volunteers. When family and friends ask how they can help, show them the list and calendar, and together, pick one of the tasks.
- Once you and the volunteer select a task, ask if he or she wants you to put her/him on the calendar for this task just this once or at what specific frequency. This way a volunteer will understand that being put on the calendar requires a commitment for that day and time, and they will be less likely to commit beyond their comfort zone.
- Having a cleaning service when Mary was sick meant one less big thing for me to do juggle. If your finances don’t allow for you to hire a cleaning service, ask volunteers to each do one day of cleaning per month. Be sure to put their name and phone number and email on the calendar, along with the hours they commit to being there.
- If you don’t have family nearby your home, ask for volunteers from your house of worship, local social service agencies, and from friends at work. Also consider the parents of your children’s playmates. Asking for volunteers is easier when you have the list of specific tasks and dates needed.
- Take careful control of what cannot be delegated. Make another list, and mark your own personal calendar. Talk with your wife about the household responsibilities she has had that are not already on the Delegate list. Make sure each of you know the financial obligations and assets you hold in common.
- If you or your wife do not already have direct deposit, ask your employer if you can get started right away. When your wife is in treatment, you may not have time to deposit your check as quickly as you have in the past. You or your wife may even need to take a day off of work and forget it is payday, delaying your deposit.
- While your wife is able, remind her to meet with her employer’s human resource department or personnel manager to complete required paperwork for extended sick time, short-term disability, or Family Medical Leave Act. If possible, attend the meeting with her to ensure all questions are answered and all options evaluated. Know the timeframes of various options. Consult a third party benefits specialist if you have any questions that the employer’s representative isn’t answering to your satisfaction. If you have a lawyer or financial advisor, you may want to consult with that professional before you and your wife make a decision, but do not delay.
- If automatic bill pay is offered by your bank, get some help getting set up to pay all your regular bills online: car note, auto and homeowners insurance, school tuition, etc. Call your utility providers to get on a budget and set up the monthly budget payment on autopay. For credit cards, put the minimum payment or more on autopay to ensure you do not miss a due date and get charged late fees.
- You don’t want to incur late fees, disconnects, or other problems that will mess with the household function or your credit score while dealing with your wife’s illness. Keep a list of your monthly auto-paid bills with the amounts and dates paid. Be sure to enter them into your check register as you set up each payment.
- Schedule an hour or two each month to review your finances and ensue the autopays have been set up correctly.
As your wife’s caregiver, you can help her deal with the challenges of cancer treatment by managing the household responsibilities when she isn’t able. With business of the household managed as well as can be anticipated, you will have more time and energy to sort your own emotions through the changes you will see in her. Your efforts will allow her to focus on healing, and you will feel useful and enjoy a sense of accomplishment during what is otherwise an uncertain time.