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Caregiving From a Distance: When to Step In



"When should I step in to help my father care for my mother? She was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of seventy-five. I ask because I live out of state with a fairly demanding job, but I still want to be present and supportive. At the moment, Mom is a little bit weak and tired, but she does not need major assistance or care other than some help with housekeeping." - READER



Caring for a parent while living out-of-state is both common and challenging. One never knows the best time to visit. You may wonder, "Do I return home only for critical events and illness, or should I visit for appointments, too?" It is difficult to time it all perfectly, and your parents likely understand that.

I recommend you start with your Human Resources Department. Learn about the Family Medical Leave Act and how it relates to your situation. Most employers are mandated to follow FMLA; however, it does not apply in smaller companies or to new hires, and you are required to work a certain amount of hours to receive the benefit. Speak with your boss or direct supervisor to determine how you can best support your mother and manage your work if you were to visit her. Some jobs allow for remote work and others do not. The most important thing you can do is be honest and flexible to meet the needs of both your family and employer.

After speaking with Human Resources, consider how much time you, personally, will need to spend with Mom in order to feel emotionally fulfilled as a daughter. Only you can make that judgment. Accept that you will not be present for every milestone. Unfortunately, that comes with a distant address. 

Next, start planning your trip(s), taking into account both the severity of your mother's condition and what is reasonable for you to manage with work. One suggestion I have is to attend some initial doctor's appointments if possible. Being present for earlier appointments will alleviate some of your mental unrest by allowing you the opportunity to ask questions. Ask for timelines from her doctors, but understand that no two patients react identically.

This will be a difficult time filled with much uncertainty. Knowing that upfront provides reassurance that you are traveling along a path that others have navigated. The more information you collect, the easier it will be for you to make decisions. Just remember that it will not likely go exactly as you wish. Don't forget to take advantage of emails, texts, phone calls, video chats and social media so you can interact with Mom and Dad more frequently than you will be able to visit.

My thoughts are with you as you navigate caregiving from a distance.


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