Caring for Mom and Dad
Local woman talks about being caregiver, tries to prepare other for role
By Charmaine Smith-Miles
Caroline Bell never had children, just her dogs. She was earning a six-figure salary with American Express and Citigroup. She and her husband had a home outside of Atlanta and planned on keeping their family’s place on Hartwell Lake as their retirement home.
Now, her six-figure salary is gone. She and her husband have leased the home in Atlanta and she is caring for her dogs and her dad.
“I just made the decision that I really wanted to take care of Dad,” Bell said.
The shift in her life began in 2006. She lost her corporate position to lay-offs. Her entire office went from 60 people to 12 people and then to none. “It was either leave or move to New York,” she said.
Then, in the same month, she learned her mother was suffering from dementia. The mother who had taken care of everything suddenly needed someone else to care for her and for her husband.
“I was crushed,” Bell said. “I had been working and saving toward my retirement since I was 21. I had plans and was right on target at 50 to live my dream.”
All of that changed in 2006, and then in 2009 Bell’s father also became ill.
Bell and her sister became two of more than 43 million Americans who are caring for loved ones, according to Parentgiving.com, an Internet site dedicated to helping people better care for their aging parents.
In February, Bell was one of 10 recognized with the company’s 2010 Parentgiver of the Year honor. They were selected from nearly 50 people nominated across the country for the award, said Julie Davis, the chief content officer for Parentgiving.com.
“We chose Caroline because we felt she went beyond the traditional responsibilities of a caregiver, in that she made this a complete life change,” Davis said.
Once Caroline realized what shift her life was taking, she took on her new role with energy. She went back to school and became a certified nursing assistant and she is working on obtaining a certificate in gerontology.
She also has started her own company, Preparing for Care. It is a way for Bell to take care of her father full time, but also a way to pass on to others what she has learned from making so many life changes between 2006 and 2009.
There’s a lot to caring for a parent, a lot of decisions to make, she said. She said children usually don’t think about their parents aging and what will happen when they do — until they receive that first call that their mother or father has fallen or suffered an injury.
“I want to teach children to start a dialogue with their parents,” Bell said. “Just by bringing the subject up, and asking questions, doesn’t mean something is going to happen. Dealing with it in a crisis mode is not good either.”
While Bell has continued her classroom learning, the lessons have also continued at home.
For about five years, Bell, her father, her husband and Bell’s sister settled into a routine at their homes outside Atlanta. She took care of her father. Bell’s sister took care of their mother. Both lived on the same street. Bell’s father and mother could still see each other.
Then in October 2009, Bell’s father, Bob Scranton, suddenly had his own health problems beset him.
One morning Bell woke, went downstairs and found her father, in his 80s, lying on the floor next to his bed. He couldn’t talk and he didn’t remember a thing that had happened to him that evening.
“He couldn’t even move,” Bell said. “He was just out of it.”
For a short time, he suffered from delirium, forgetting where he was or what had happened to him. It was brought on by an infection. For eight weeks, he was in rehabilitation, Bell said. He was nearly paralyzed on his right side, Bell said.
Bell would have to make another drastic change — sell a house. Either the home outside Atlanta or the home that had belonged to her husband’s family was going to have to go.
In the end, they hung on to the house on the banks of Hartwell Lake, near Townville. Bell is with her father around the clock. Her dogs are still by her side.
Her father is walking with a cane most of the time and uses a walker around the house. And Bell has learned how to take breaks for herself. She’s found her balance.
“In this whole process, the roles have been reversed,” Bell said. “That’s been the hardest thing. What I originally thought was a burden is now the greatest gift I’ve been given.”