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Digging Out from the Crush of Caregiving: Angie’s Story

At Circle of Care we know that all family caregivers carry a heavy load, but considering the year Angie Pacheco has had, that would be an understatement.

In January, Angie’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, with three-to-six months to live. The news was devastating—not just because he had been a healthy and robust 81-year-old up until that point, but was also the primary caregiver for her mother, who had advanced dementia, and her brother living with schizophrenia.

Respecting her parents’ refusal for outside help given their Portuguese viewpoint that “family takes care of family”, Angie and her husband, James, decided she would take a leave of absence from work to manage their complex medical and emotional needs. This meant she spent her days and nights at her parents’ home, often sleeping in 20-minute intervals on the coach to provide pain relief for her father as his health was declining. For his part, James was left to fend for himself at home.

As the months wore on, Angie became sleep-deprived and isolated. Desperate for any kind of relief, she was connected to Circle of Care and matched with Charlotte Koven, a hospice case manager, who was able to support her with coping strategies to help manage the exhausting toll.

“Charlotte was so kind and accommodating,” says Angie. “Everything was on me, 24 hours a day, and I was neglecting myself. But Charlotte made me feel like I had someone in my corner. I won’t lie, it was a horrible situation, but her human touch made me feel that I mattered.”

In addition, regular visits from one of Circle of Care’s friendly visiting volunteers helped ease the loneliness and provide enough respite to escape to run a few errands. “Her visits were a relief,” she recalls. “Some days she would just let me vent and get my frustrations out. It was incredibly helpful because there were days where I thought I was losing it.”

By June, Angie’s father had passed away and, having received his blessing before his death, she was able to move her mother to a long-term care facility. Although she felt guilty, knowing her mother never wanted “strangers” to take care of her, Angie pushed on knowing that she could now turn her attention to reintegrating her brother back to the group home he had been successfully living at prior to their parents’ illnesses.

Two months later, Angie’s mother also passed away, and so came the next daunting task of managing her parents’ affairs and packing up the family home of 35 years. Struggling with the grief of her parents’ passing, along with the enduring trauma that led up to it, Angie reached out to Circle of Care once more. After receiving individual counselling and joining a six-week bereavement support group, she says she feels as though she received the greatest gift.

“I know I’m not first, and I won’t be the last person to grieve a loved one, but being able to connect and relate to others in this way surprised me beyond belief,” she says.

In November, Angie received a Canada Cares award of excellence. (Canada Cares is a program of the Canadian Abilities Foundation.) The awards celebrate family caregivers who spend countless hours looking after loved ones in need.

“I was so touched and honoured to be recognized for all my sacrifices. But it was nothing compared to the love and care my parents gave me throughout my life. This award is for them.”