Gary started helping his mom care for his dad in the 1990s. Now he's her caregiver.
During one of his weekly phone calls with his mom, Gary Barg could hear in her voice that something was wrong. It was 1994, and he was living in Atlanta. His mom was living in Florida and was taking care of her parents. Before that, she had been caring for her husband, Gary’s dad, until he died from bone marrow cancer in 1991.
Concerned about his mom’s well-being, Gary decided to go to Florida for two weeks before he started working on a project for the 1996 Olympics. She didn’t ask him to come, but he wanted to help her in any way he could.
It was the most intense, emotionally painful, challenging two weeks of my life.
“It was the most intense, emotionally painful, challenging two weeks of my life,” he says. He remembers sitting with his mom at dinner before he left and saying that it was fortunate that he had been there to help her during such a difficult time. “She looked at me dumbfounded because what to me was the most challenging two weeks of my life was just a normal two weeks in the life of a family caregiver,” he says.
That realization is what prompted Gary to pack up and move to Florida to become a caregiver’s caregiver.
Becoming a caregiver’s caregiver
Gary’s mom didn’t ask him to help. He took it upon himself to help her as she helped their loved ones. What he found was that being a caregiver was like becoming the CEO of what he calls Caring for Your Loved One, Inc. “You have to deal with every aspect of this new organization,” he says. Because you have to manage so many different things as a caregiver, it can feel like everything is coming at you like a firehose, he says.
On top of being the CEO, you have to be the chief financial officer when you’re a family caregiver, Gary says. You have to oversee your loved one’s finances, manage the impact caregiving has on your finances and coordinate with siblings as Gary did with his brother and sister to sort out who would pay for what.
Our senior loved ones are being constantly inundated by mail, by phone, by email, by text.
Gary says caregivers also have to protect their loved ones’ finances from scammers. “Our senior loved ones are being constantly inundated by mail, by phone, by email, by text,” he says. “It’s just horrendous that they have to battle through this mirage of terrible people who want to do terrible things to them.”
Gary’s mom is now 87 years old. Someone is with her at all times -- either Gary, his brother or sister. They split both the hands-on caregiving duties and the financial support they provide.
Caring for himself
Gary learned that being a caregiver is a labor of love because it can be exhausting. “It can swamp your entire world,” he says.
Caring for yourself is job one. If you fall apart, who is going to step in and care for your loved one?
That’s why it’s important to carve out time for yourself. Gary says he learned first-hand that “caring for yourself is job one. If you fall apart, who is going to step in and care for your loved one.”
He says it’s also important for caregivers to get support. “There’s so much that people want to do to help and to support,” Gary says. “It’s up to us as caregivers to reach and ask for it.”
Helping other caregivers
Gary’s caregiving experience prompted him and his family to launch “Today’s Caregiver” magazine in 1995, then Caregiver.com soon after. He wanted to help other caregivers just as caregivers had helped him on his journey.
Gary also has hosted more than 300 Fearless Caregiver conferences across the country and has written three books on caregiving. Through his own experience and through conversations with other caregivers, Gary has learned that being a caregiver can strengthen you. You find yourself doing things that you never thought you could, he says.
You know you’re making a difference in the life of someone you love.
As a caregiver, you also can share special moments with your loved one. “You know you’re making a difference in the life of someone you love,” he says.