Who are these caregivers? They are family or friends who give unpaid care to a loved one who may have a mental or physical health condition, chronic illness, or age-related fragility. 

They are the quiet heroes in our community medical system that help form the backbone for the health and happiness of many people. One hundred years ago, the average life expectancy in Canada was only around 50 years of age, but with improved medical care, hygiene, diet, and healthier lifestyles most people expect to live well into their 80’s. That means that more people will need care at some point in their life. 

I had the privilege to act as the primary caregiver for my mother until she passed away in May 2022 at the age of 95. After living with us, she moved into Rocky Mountain Village in Fernie where she received wonderful, loving care as she slid deeper into dementia. We enjoyed many happy hours of involvement at RMV and learned that caregiving doesn’t stop when Long Term Care begins. 

Gary and I have had the opportunity to be caregivers for each other over the years. He looked after me when I was recovering from an accident and was wheelchair bound in a care facility. He was my rock when I had torn retinas and had to be face down for a month. Gary has an inoperable brain tumour, so my personal caregiving journey continues with a long list of unrecognized roles. At times, these have included: medical team communication, appointments, transportation, managing medications, physical care (bathing, feeding, dressing, etc.), diet planning, emotional support, legal and financial arrangements, keeping family and friends informed, etc. Playing a critical role in the health and well-being of a loved one while trying to manage work, family and your own personal needs can be exhausting on all levels.

Despite the crucial roles they play, many caregivers don’t think they need to access practical social or emotional support for themselves. They may recognize the increased stress, anxiety, depression, and isolation they are experiencing, but don’t think about the impact of caregiving on their own health and well-being. My intuitive doctor recommended I reach out to others in local or online support groups, be physically active, get outside, do something creative, and take time to do things for myself that bring me joy. 

About seven years ago, I called the toll-free line offered by the Caregivers Network for East Kootenay Seniors because I was worried for my own mental and physical health. Help was available in the form of monthly support groups, printed material, in person support visits and a toll-free line just for caregivers. This has made a huge difference and we are very grateful for the unwavering support of our family and friends, fantastic doctors and nurses, tireless pharmacists, therapists, counsellors, and support groups. 

Today, I would like to salute some of my personal heroes, the caregivers who are amongst us. 

It has been a privilege and an honour to spend time and learn from so many amazing men and women who are faithfully caregiving for friends or family in the Elk Valley. 

If you are a caregiver, please accept our thanks and appreciation for all that you do. 

If you know a caregiver, let them know that they are making a difference. 

If you have been a caregiver, you already know that the struggle is real. 

We will all have the opportunity to be caregivers in our lifetime, and we don’t need to do it alone.

The Elk Valley Caregiver Support group now meets in Fernie at CBAL(402 Hwy 3, unit 1A) on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 2pm. For more info: Marianne Agnew, Elk Valley Caregiver Support Facilitator, pineconelodge5305@gmail.com, caregiversnetworkek.com