Large and colorful shapes fly out of a duffel bag as two women talk to each other on the phone.

Caregiving Away From Home

Caregiving away from home can present some challenges that are unique to taking care of someone outside your home.

At home, you know where everything is, know how to operate appliances like the washer and dryer, water softener, microwave, stove. It’s easier to cook meals at home because you know what staples are in the pantry, what’s in the refrigerator and freezer, and where to find the pots and pans. You can make meal plans based on what you know is available. In someone else’s house, there may be mystery meals using whatever ingredients you find!

A new environment

In addition to caring for my husband, I’ve also had experience caring for another family member with cancer. I stay with my daughter during the weeks she has had chemo treatments and have had to learn the lay of the land of her household. Where’s a frying pan? Do you have sharp knives so I can cut up these vegetables? Do you have vegetables? Do you have sharp knives? How old is that food in the refrigerator? How do you operate four remote controls to find anything on your big-screen TV?

I’ve stayed with my daughter often enough now to know where most things are kept, but there are always some surprises. And surprises for her, too. When I return home, I can get a phone call asking where I put something because it’s not in the right cabinet. From miles away I have no idea what to tell her. Someday the lost will be found.

And then we have to consider the kids! My daughter has a 15-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. I’m getting to know them better than I ever had before. That’s great, except in some circumstances, maybe not really. I’m the grandma and temporary resident, so I don't feel that I can discipline or give too much in the way of instruction or suggestion. I try to feel my way to see what is my acceptable involvement – acceptable to my daughter and to the kids.

Counting on neighbors and others

At home, I know my neighbors and who I can count on in a moment’s notice. At my daughter’s house, initially, not so much. I’ve made an effort to get to know some of her neighbors; many have supported her in this journey by providing transportation for my grandchildren, making meals, bringing flowers. One neighbor often brings new pajamas for my daughter to make her feel pretty during a time when she doesn’t feel very attractive. Another drives my granddaughter to all her after-school activities.

The sidewalks and driveway were shoveled by caring people during the winter, and now the young boys next-door are cutting the grass. These wonderful people, no longer strangers to me, have reopened my eyes to the kindness around us. And it’s good to know who I can call upon in her circle of friends and in her neighborhood.

I have contact information for my husband’s medical team, but made sure I have phone numbers and office locations for every doctor, oncologist, hospital, nurse and pharmacist involved in my daughter’s care. These contacts are all stored in my own phone so I can reach any of her medical team on my own if needed.

Being prepared

I recently learned I need to have a bag packed and ready to go immediately, a “bug out” bag as my husband calls it. My daughter called early once because a blood clot developed above her port. I flew out of the house after throwing together a random bag of things I might need for a longer stay. Of course, in a hurry and stressed to the max, my bag wasn't very well thought out.

My curiosity called for research into the origin of bug out bag.  One source said it referred to military aviators who had to jump from their planes during war. Everything they might have needed for survival was in what was then termed a bail out bag. These days many survivalists have a bug out bag to be ready for a quick departure. From now on, my bug out bag is ready and available.

In addition to extra clothes, personal meds, a phone charger and hygiene items, my bug out bag includes things to keep me occupied. Sure, there’s always housework and cooking to be done, but there are moments when we rest. A crossword puzzle book, a novel, a jigsaw puzzle or a hand sewing project are perfect for those times.

And always pack your mask, and I don't mean the face covering we wear to medical appointments. I desperately needed my mask last time I walked into my daughter’s house and saw her bald head. I fought hard to not show the sadness on my face, to hide the tears. I bring out the mask after the bone pain from chemo has set in.  There are many times when I need to put on the mask and save my pain and tears for later.

Learning as I go

Being a caregiver, whether at home or in someone else’s house, requires energy, compassion and commitment. But being a caregiver outside of your own home presents some unique "opportunities."  I’m learning as I go and hope that sharing some of what I’ve learned may help someone else if in a similar situation..

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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