New Westminster resident Ruby Dhillon has been acting as an unpaid caregiver for years — caring for her husband, mother and mother-in-law who all passed away in recent years.
Dhillon’s role as caregiver continues today as part of what’s now known as the Sandwich Generation. Dhillon lives with and cares for her elderly father-in-law and recently one of her sons moved home after separating from his wife. And since her son has joint custody of his children, they also live with Dhillon half time.
“I’ve also had to go back to work,” says Dhillon, who owns a cleaning business. “But it’s made me more organized and now I plan meals for my father-in-law one day ahead.”
Dhillon admits care giving can take its toll.
“It’s go, go, go all the time,” she says. “And sometimes I get tired and frustrated.”
But, Dhillon is also finding comfort and advice from a new free website/social platform dedicated to sharing stories and offering support called storiesforcaregivers.com. It’s here unpaid caregivers can connect with each other, share their experiences and be inspired by uplifting stories and videos designed to build empathy for better health care and social policies, and drive family and friends to available resources and communities of support. Produced with the participation of TELUS Fund, Stories for Caregivers aims to share these stories. In 2017, TELUS Fund launched a special call for a web series based on entertaining and engaging stories with the potential to positively impact individuals providing care for loved ones. Many filmmakers applied and ten were selected to create their pilot episodes. Audiences were invited to watch the pilot episodes online and show support for their favorites. With the support of more than 30,000 video views in a three week period, the fund financed the production of three web series and the Stories for Caregivers platform.
Dhillon says as the result of being involved with the project, sharing her story and listening to other caregivers, she’s come to realize how important it is to take care of herself, as well as everyone else around her.
“I’m getting old myself,” says Dhillon. “There are times I need to ask for help. If I don’t look after myself, how am I going to look after [my father-in-law].”
So these days Dhillon makes sure to take a break once in a while and take a walk, watch a movie or read a book.
Dr. Yvette Lu, a Surrey-based family physician who visits caregivers across Canada to learn about their lives and the challenges they face, is part of the Stories for Caregivers project. Lu helps produce the series with Robert Lyons, a media producer and photographer, and the Coup Company.
Lu says it’s estimated unpaid caregivers save the Canadian government $25 billion annually across the country. Lu adds unpaid care giving can create many stresses, including heavy lifting and transfers, isolation and stress. That’s why it’s so vital for caregivers to take care of themselves, she adds.
“Caregivers often don’t realize they’re caregivers,” says Lu. “It usually takes more than a year for people to realize they’ve become a caregiver. What we do is interview a caregiver, then find a problem and then help them find a solution.”