Relief Mate

I remember from my sailing days those mates and engineers in various ports of call who would come aboard to stand watches in the place of the guys assigned to those positions on the ship. At sea and in foreign ports, ship life meant working at least 2 watches a day, 7 days a week, holidays notwithstanding, and always on call for an immediate response to any emergency.


The pay was good, but having someone relieve you to allow you some free time in a friendly port was a welcome break. I've had shore jobs that, despite the supposed ability to go home every night and stay there on weekends, left me begging for a break even more than going to sea (I'm looking at you, proposal writer gig).


But the role that leaves you most in need of a break may well be caring for a parent (or both) in the home with Alzheimer's. Been there, done that. Know it well enough that some time ago I offered my service as a relief caregiver to a friend from church who lives with her Alz-stricken husband, far from any family, who otherwise carries this enormous burden alone.


I don't do much. Once a week I take him for a drive for a couple hours, pick up a meal at Arby's (#2 combo: the #1 has that gooey cheese that makes a big mess in certain hands), and generally share a ride in the country and some friendly conversation.


"Conversation" may not be the best word. His language ranges between basically intelligible but disconnected phrases to tossed word salads to scrambled syllables. Some days are clearer than others. But he seems to enjoy my company, and his wife can use those two hours to run errands, meet with friends, or just relax.


Had my wife and I never spent those years taking care of my parents when they had Alzheimer's, maybe the thought of offering our help to this friend wouldn't have occurred to us. But we learned that this need for relief--and it can be a chronic stress that family caregivers often feel without sharing--is just part of the deal. If the need goes unmet it can devour you. Hard spot to be in, that.


So look around you. If someone you know is in such a situation, offer to help. Or if you can't, help find someone who can.


That's my two cents.

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