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My name is Carol and I am in my mid-60s. I grew up in England after WWII. In 1964 I immigrated to Canada. Leaving school when I was 16 I was given two choices: you can either go and work in the factories, or, you can become a shorthand typist. I chose the latter and thus began my journey down the pink brick road.
I lacked confidence in my own abilities and always thought a man would look after me. Being old and retired did not enter my head. Now I am older and living on a tiny pension. But, I am not retired, although most people think I am. I am a caregiver to my 92-year-old father. I go unpaid, unseen and unacknowledged by any group. My father wishes to remain independent and in his own apartment. He can wash his own face, comb his own hair, and walk to the nearby store for a few groceries. Because of his longevity and ability to get up in the morning he is not eligible for any government assistance. Privately he would have to pay $15-plus an hour for home help. Even then, the actual female paid worker only receives a fraction of this amount with the rest going to the private government subsidized agency. So, the family, if available, steps in, and their care giving goes unrecognized by society. In essence, workers need to be paid, but family caregivers are not workers, they are family, and therefore invisible.
The platform of one (majority) government party -- the Conservatives -- is that they will introduce a $3,000 NON-REFUNDABLE tax credit for caregivers. Sounds lovely. I asked questions. If the caregiver has no income tax to pay, being already at the poverty line, then, a non-refundable tax credit gives the unpaid caregiver zero dollars of extra income. I can now read the fine print and ask a lot, I mean a lot, of questions.
I often ask myself the following:
As the invisible, unpaid caregiver, am I just Spam?
I do often feel that I have just walked into a Monty Python skit. If I did not take this comedic approach to being a sexagenarian caregiver aiding a nonagenarian relative, I would be in a long-term care psychiatric ward myself.
So instead of Spam, I try to imagine what it would be like to start thinking of myself as filet mignon: with my caregiver services no longer free of charge. In my dreams I hear myself say. How will you ever change the political landscape of a silent generation of women?
What is it unpaid caregivers want? We want to be paid for the billions of dollars we save the healthcare system every day. We want respect for our profession. The profession of care giving.
I suggest a Caregiver Day of Action.
Many of us do not get paid anyway. Those who do work and take care of a loved one must need a Mental Health Day sometime. We will wear our sandwich boards, or, it might be a club sandwich board for some of us. We will walk to our local Member of Parliament's office, MLA's office, and Municipal office. Must remember to invite the media!
I suggest we start a petition to get ourselves a day of recognition, like Mother's Day, Father's Day and Caregivers Day.
I suggest we create a symbol for ourselves to wear with pride. The lowest common denominator is already in use, by us. The symbol for infinity looks and sounds creative and truthful.
I suggest we all participate in Culture Days -- whatever city you are in. Check out Culture Days Sept. 30th, Oct. 1 and 2.
Our program will be called: Generation to Generation -- The Art and Culture of the Invisible Caregiver.
• We will have a design competition for our new caregiver symbol;
• We will tell our stories, verbally, and artistically;
• We will ask doctors, dentists, public health practitioners, and lawyers to join us for their perspective on how the new Paid Caregiver should proceed. We will ask them about new social programs that are Timely and efficient and obtainable by all Canadians, not just those in the largest cities;
• We will dance and have music and food and laugh;
• We will open up our minds to all that is possible and perhaps a few of those impossible dreams;
• We will invite our elected politicians, since they are actively wooing the senior vote right now. That is because, yes, most of us are the majority, and, we vote. We will take off our rose-colored glasses and put on the Big Print glasses so that we can read the fine print and make sure none of us gets lost in the bureaucratic maze;
• We will invite private/government contracted home care providers to ask about affordable private care;
• We will invite pharmacists to tell us why we pay so much for our drugs and why more generic versions are not available;
• We will invite local long-term care providers and find out what "Ageing in Place" really means;
• We will invite local banks to tell us about what incentives they will provide to Caregivers to entice this large group to deposit their new found wealth in their bank;
• We will invite our local RCMP office for their views on caregivers and society;
• We will invite Veteran's Affairs to tell us how they provide for the caregiver whose family member has served their country;
• Additions welcome.
I feel I am part of the last generation of caregivers who will tolerate this huge hole in the healthcare system.
My children are well educated, and well paid. They are looking forward to retirement at age 55. They plan on travelling and enjoying their senior years.
Remember this, old age may seem a long way off, but the day it doesn't it will be too late to do anything about it!!
Carol Stanley lives in Powell River, British Columbia. A version of this story is running in an upcoming issue of Immanence Magazine.
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